Oregon court orders change to liquor ballot title

Oregon court orders change to liquor ballot title
KATU photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's Supreme Court told the state attorney general on Friday to modify the ballot title for an initiative petition that would change the way liquor is sold.

Grocery chains such as Fred Meyer and Safeway hope to privatize liquor sales in Oregon, where only state-regulated liquor stores are currently permitted to sell distilled spirits.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum certified a ballot title for Initiative Petition 58 that reads: "Allows qualified retail stores to sell liquor; current price markup replaced by wholesale sales tax."

Although the tax is on sales between wholesalers and retailers, the Supreme Court agreed with initiative supporters that voters might incorrectly think it's a tax imposed at the point of a retail sale. Oregon does not have a sales tax, and voters have repeatedly rejected a sales tax.

The ballot title is often the first thing a voter reads about an issue, and it's common for opposing sides to spar over the language.

Supporters of privatization can't collect signatures until the court approves a revised ballot title. That could take another week or two, and backers need the names of 87,213 registered voters by July 3.

"It's going to require a substantial effort to be able to successfully collect the signatures needed to qualify," said Pat McCormick, spokesman for Oregonians for Competition, the group leading the initiative.

The group, however, recently started collecting signatures for a similar version of the measure — Initiative Petition 47. That ballot title, approved by the Supreme Court, reads: "Allows qualified retail store to sell liquor; imposes wholesale tax to replace current state markup."

Initiative Petition 58 will likely end up with identical wording. McCormick's group wanted the word "tax" completely removed from the title in favor of "revenue replacement fee." The Supreme Court said Rosenblum's use of the word "tax" accurately describes the proposed measure, so it can stay.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission currently charges a 104 percent markup on liquor, with most of the money going toward state, county and city governments. The initiatives would put a 72 percent wholesale tax (or revenue-replacement fee) on liquor to replace the state's markup.

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