A long time ago, I wrote a piece predicting Oregon would finally come into the 21st century and sell hard alcohol in supermarkets and club stores. Turns out, I was wrong about that so far and I really do not understand why. Oregon should and eventually will propose a state sales tax. At that point, revenue to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) might not be as precious as it is these days. Why either reflects on the other is another thing—there is a pretty big list I do not understand. The OLCC can always continue collecting taxes; no one would argue that because people will buy their liquor in good times and in bad. With Portland’s close proximity to Vancouver, Washington where people do not have to pay state income tax, Oregon has a boon of revenue from the population of southern Washington state residents crossing the bridge everyday to purchase their consumables without paying a sales tax. Here is another quandary on my list. Why Washington State does not start collecting state income tax and Oregon State start charging a sales tax is beyond my comprehension. I mean really the Northwest is an affordable and beautiful place to live and a lot of us came here from places that imposed both income and sales taxes. I really doubt there would be a mass exodus if things were to change. I know I am not going anywhere and I have been known to pick up and move at the drop of a hat.
Too many people in both Washington and Oregon have figured out how to keep the states from collecting the revenue they need to continue operations. What does this have to do with anything even slightly related to wine? Well, when it comes to taxes, wine sales will always be a subject of consideration.
The article that was written by Harry Esteve that appeared on the front page of the Oregonian on May 10, 2011, the OLCC director in hot seat depicts a small glimpse into the inner workings of our wonderful Oregon Liquor Control Commission. This article is a great example of how taxes, wine, beer, lobbyist’s and legislature in this state seem way too comfortable with each other. It was no surprise to see the face of Mr. Paul Romain, the lobbyist lawyer who has in the past been accused of supporting Oregon wine and beer distributors in what might politely be called an overzealous manner. Seems a few years back when Mr. Romain was involved in a bill that would limit direct wine shipments to retail customers he wound up in a pretty big mess. Somehow, an apology to the Oregon BAR Association and the legislature floor let him continue to operate. In many other states, the consequences of his actions would have drawn a much more severe punishment. Oregon being a state that tends to be a bit more lenient decided to let his indiscriminant acts slip by. I have always heard being able to be slippery was an advantageous quality for a lawyer in a lobbyist position.
I suppose if I was collecting his fees, I might be a bit zealous too but breaking the law is where I would draw the line. Now no one is accusing him of breaking any laws regarding this debacle but the relationship between Steve Pharo, director of the OLCC and attorney Paul Romain has become a little too cozy according to Senator Jason Atkinson and John DiLorenzo representing the Grocery outlet and their continuing battle to operate differently than all other wine retailers in Oregon. I can think of a few other retailers and grocery clubs who should join Grocery Outlet in their quest.
This satellite warehouse concept is practiced in many other states and to my knowledge only the middlemen are losing money. All taxes are collected and consumers are enjoying a consistent product. I would like to state if there is any product that does not do well with temperature change and movement, it is wine. The Grocery Outlet only wants to make sure that the wine does not suffer when it is moved around too much, maintaining product in stock is how revenue is generated, and taxes are collected. It seems Grocery Outlet’s intent is very transparent, while the actions of Paul Romain and Steve Pharo are a bit more muddled. I guess I will have to add this scenario to my long list of things I do not understand. Our Governor Mr. Kitzhaber has made a request for these boys to play nice. Now whether either side will adhere to that request remains to be seen.
If you have anything you do not understand about how and why the OLCC exists or their operations and rationalizations of their actions, please respond with a comment so I can add them to my list and maybe we can get Steve Pharo to answer them without conferring with Paul Romain. Wait a minute, whose lawyer is he anyway? I guess what that really means is, where does the Oregon beer and wine distributor influence end and the legislation of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission begin? Do murky waters lead to slippery slopes or are we beyond that?