July 30, 2001 11:00 pm

If Don McIntire, Oregons prolific tax activist, gets his way, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and state liquor stores could soon be out of business. McIntire and fellow activist Eric Winters have filed a proposed ballot initiative with the secretary of state to privatize liquor sales in Oregon.

Since the inception of the OLCC in 1933, there have been several attempts to wrest control of liquor from the state. In 1980 a group tried to get a similar initiative placed on the ballot, but failed to get enough signatures. In 1995 and 1997, several bills were introduced in the Legislature to accomplish the same goal, but none of the bills got far.

McIntire appears to want to reduce taxes and government. Approximately $98 million in liquor taxes were raised in 2000 and it is unlikely that the state is willing to let go of these taxes. McIntire was recently quoted in an article saying, Its one of the best places imaginable to start. What is the government doing in the business of selling a commercial product, let alone alcohol?

Not everyone agrees with McIntire when it comes to shifting the responsibility of liquor sales away from the OLCC. A majority of existing liquor store operators reportedly oppose this proposal. Some of the owners do not think it would be necessary to get rid of OLCC stores in order to accommodate other retailers. Bob Hesla, who owns the Belmont Liquor Store in Southeast Portland, believes there would be room for both traditional stores and grocery, discount and convenience store outlets. Hesla points out that most of these retailers only want to carry 100 to 125 of the best-selling items, while there are 2,500 different types of liquor items that could be sold.

We dont see the value in ending a system that has worked well for almost 70 years. Privatization wont improve the quality of liquor that is sold. And it wont eliminate the taxes that the state and federal government place on each item. If anything, the controls put on the sales of liquor might become weaker, while the Legislature might see a greater avenue for taxes.

Having cigarettes handled by retailers hasnt reduced the taxes paid by smokers nor reduced accessibility to under-age users. Spend a few moments in a grocery store in California and youll quickly see that there are rows and rows of display cases with liquor.

The ability of someone to shoplift liquor from a grocery aisle certainly exists. In Oregon, anyone who looks too young wont get past the front door of an Oregon liquor store.

Over the years, McIntire and others have called for the privatization of government sectors or the deregulation of industries like airlines. We get promises of lower prices and better service and instead end up with less competition, higher prices and worse service.

Oregonians should be wary of McIntires initiative and shouldnt sign this initiative. The system is not broken. So why should we go to the trouble to fix it?