County Executive Ike Leggett Wednesday made his pitch for protecting Montgomery County’s alcohol monopoly in front of Bethesda business leaders in an off-the-record meeting at the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.
While the meeting was open only to chamber members, Leggett’s office on Wednesday released a letter the county executive sent to Chamber President and CEO Ginnane Italiano outlining his message.
In it, Leggett makes many of the same points he has made over the last few weeks, including that the potential loss of the $30 million a year the county’s alcohol system brings in “would be one of the most reckless and irresponsible things that could happen to our county.”
In October, Italiano praised the news that a group of state delegates and Comptroller Peter Franchot plan to introduce legislation that could lead to opening up the county to competition from private alcohol distributors and retailers.
Last week, a group of about 30 local restaurant owners, managers and other business leaders met at Mussel Bar and Grille in Bethesda to discuss beginning their own campaign to support ending the county’s alcohol monopoly.
Also on Wednesday, County Council member Roger Berliner—the only one of nine council members to express support for ending the county’s alcohol monopoly—released a report from the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) outlining ways the county could make up for $30 million in lost alcohol profit.
The report is based on a number of assumptions, some which the county government disputed when the OLO’s first report on the county’s alcohol system was released this year.
One assumption in the report was that the county’s Department of Liquor Control would maintain its retail store operations even if the county’s alcohol monopoly was ended and that it could retain 90 percent of its current retail profits even if the law was changed to allow private retailers to sell liquor. Right now, only the county retail stores can sell liquor for off-premises consumption.
Based on the retail store assumptions, the OLO said the DLC would still generate $10 million annually in retail store profits alone.
The report also assumed Montgomery County retailers would “recapture cross-border alcohol sales” equivalent to 5.6 million gallons in volume—the difference in average number of gallons of alcohol consumed between Montgomery County and neighboring jurisdictions.
Berliner also said a 1-cent per ounce excise tax on alcohol would further close the revenue gap of $30 million a year. The excise tax would have to be approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor.
In its analysis, the OLO concluded that a fee of $1.19 per ounce would add 86 cents to the cost of a six-pack of beer, 30 cents to a regular bottle of wine and 40 cents to a one-liter bottle of liquor.
“I personally believe that our public overwhelming supports eliminating our county’s unique liquor monopoly, and that over the long term the economic stimulus provided by ending the county’s monopoly will result in a net plus for our county coffers and our residents,” Berliner wrote in a letter to Del. Bill Frick presenting the OLO analysis.
Frick is sponsoring legislation that would put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters if the county should be open to private alcohol distributors and retailers.
“However, it is equally true that our county can ill afford to lose the revenue currently generated by the DLC in the meantime,” Berliner wrote. “We should not be forced to choose one or the other.”