In the scheme of things, an allocation request in Gov. Butch Otter’s budget recommendation for the coming fiscal year of $15,000 would seem to be throwaway money out a total budget of $2.8 billion.
But the use of the money might make the proposed expenditure more than a routine line item. Plus, there is some sentiment in the Legislature for privatizing liquor sales, to get the state out of the private sector.
Otter has requested funds for the relocation and expansion of five liquor stores and expanded hours among state-owned and contract stores. Among other requests from the governor is a new website development that would include hiring “a 3rd party consultant to aid in the development of a consumer based website.” The proposed website by the Idaho State Liquor Division (ISLD) would include information about “industry trends, providing drink recipes, party planning tips, and other relevant content.”
The state of Idaho collectively administers some 163 owned or contract-based liquor stores. For fiscal year 2011, the division reported it returned $50.2 million to cities, counties and the general fund from the sale of liquor.
Currently on the ISLD website is a link to a site called “thebar.com.” The site states, “We don’t mean to brag, but thebar.com is simply the best place to be if you’re bartending at home.” The site is maintained and owned by Diageo, a spirits company with popular brands such as Guinness, Jose Cuervo Especial and Smirnoff. It shows users how to mix popular brands of different spirits.
Yet ISLD in its annual report states, “The mission of the [ISLD] is to provide control over the importation, distribution, sale, and consumption of distilled spirits; curtail intemperate use of beverage alcohol; and responsibly optimize the net revenues to the citizens of Idaho.”
Jeff Anderson, liquor division director, says the division is not attempting an end-run around its temperance mission in asking the governor for the funds for the website. “We’re not trying to encourage liquor consumption here. Indeed, we encourage temperance in a variety of different ways. But Idahoans need to understand that while alcoholic beverage consumption has remained fairly static in recent years, consumption has nonetheless shifted from beer and wine to liquor. Idahoans aren’t necessarily drinking more, but they are drinking differently.”
Two of Idaho’s neighboring states, Oregon and Washington, stay away from providing material on mixing drinks. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission website contains links to tax information, home distilling information, frequently asked questions and a section about preventing minors from gaining access to liquor. The Washington State Liquor Control Board website provides links to some of the same items, but also does not provide “party planning tips” or drink recipes.
The Walker Center, headquartered in Gooding but with offices also in Twin Falls and Boise, specializes in outpatient and residential treatment for addictions related to alcohol and drug abuse. Alcohol dependency and abuse has been the No. 1 reason people enter treatment since the Walker Center’s founding in 1976. That trend changed in 2012 with a spike in opiates and other prescription pain medications surpassing alcohol.
Debbie Thomas is the chief executive officer for the Walker Center. She said it would be difficult for her to comment on the proposed website since she has not spoken with anyone about the details behind it. But, as a general statement for the substance abuser, “you are not looking for healthy drink recipes, you are looking for refusal skills to avoid use.”
She added that if the website strives to teach responsible use of alcohol, “that could be a good thing for those not dependent on alcohol or abusing alcohol as there are many unintentional negative outcomes due to binge drinking.” She said the Walker Center counsels its clients against exposing themselves to anything, drugs and/or alcohol, that is harmful and dangerous for those working on life-long recovery and total abstinence.
Bob, in the Boise office of Alcoholics Anonymous, said his group has “no opinion on outside issues. The only thing we are interested in is getting people sober, helping people get sober.”