Idaho’s state Liquor Division is again requesting to add two new state liquor stores in the Treasure Valley – a request the division made and Gov. Butch Otter recommended last year, but lawmakers rejected.
“Idaho is the fastest growing state in the country,” division Director Jeff Anderson told the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Monday. He said the two new Treasure Valley stores “are needed to adequately serve Idahoans in southern Idaho.”
Including its own stores and contractors, the division lists 15 stores in Boise, four in Meridian, three each in Nampa and Caldwell, two in Eagle and one each in Garden City, Eagle, Kuna, Star, Middleton and Parma.
Idaho has had the same number of state liquor stores since 2008, Anderson said. The division also is proposing to remodel or relocate seven existing stores next year, which it typically does when leases run out for store locations. Otter recommended funding for the moves in his budget proposal for next year.
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Last year, Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, who serves on the budget committee, raised concerns about adding the two new Treasure Valley stores. “I really question the return,” he said. “If it’s just a matter of convenience, I’m not sure I want to expend our dollars for convenience.”
This year, Anderson focused his request solely on the return. He said the division is forecasting a “100 percent return on investment in less than two years, based on past history.”
Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, asked Anderson, “You mentioned that the number of stores hadn’t changed for quite a while. There’s always kind of a tension between availability and consumption. Can you make any observations on the number of stores and extended store hours on the amount of consumption?”
Anderson said, “Per-capita consumption in Idaho remains among the lowest in the nation.”
Increased sales figures at the division, he said, largely reflect that consumers “are purchasing higher-priced products, not necessarily more.”
“There’s a phenomenon going on in the beverage alcohol industry in general that consumers are gravitating away from beer to spirits and wine,” he said. “And even though we are selling more, our per capita consumption remains low.” Based on the figures, he said, “I don’t think we have to worry about over-consumption.”
The Liquor Division operates solely on proceeds from state-controlled liquor sales and receives no state general tax funds.. It turns over its profits to the state. Last year, fiscal year 2017, the division delivered $73.3 million in profits to the state, including $29.1 million to the general fund and $42.3 million to cities and counties. Courts, schools and substance abuse treatment services also received payouts.
Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, noted that Washington recently privatized liquor sales, while imposing “quite a hefty tax on it,” and asked, “Would we have more funds available if we went to the retail model that Washington state has?”
Anderson said, “It’s difficult to know whether or not the government would make more money.” Idaho has seen increased liquor sales to Washington residents in border areas, he noted, because that state’s privatization move resulted in higher prices. Still, he said, “The state of Washington went from 360 locations to over 1,600, so they’re selling more liquor now, even with the cross-border sales.”
He predicted that cross-border sales will continue in Idaho.
The Idaho Statesman contributed. This story has been edited from the original. Read the original story.