Franchot backs proposed referendum bill on Montgomery Co. liquor monopoly

SILVER SPRING, Md. — More than $190 million in revenue and 1,300 jobs could be added to the local economy if Montgomery County’s monopoly on alcohol sales and distribution were eliminated, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said Tuesday.

Franchot based his figures on a study by the Maryland Bureau of Revenue Estimates. He made the comments during a news conference to talk up the report at a Silver Spring restaurant.

Franchot spoke to reporters at Jackie’s Restaurant and Sidebar where he also announced he’s backing Del. Bill Frick’s proposed legislation that would put to voters the question of eliminating the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control.

Franchot called the study “empirical confirmation” of what he says is a basic fact: “The county’s monopoly is bad for consumers, bad for small businesses and for our local economy.”

As comptroller, Franchot serves on the state’s Board of Revenue Estimates. He told reporters that the study stands up to scrutiny and that it is not biased.

Restaurant owners at the event complained about dealing with the county’s liquor control department ranging from narrow brand selection, to lack of availability, to incorrect or failed deliveries.

Roberto Pietrobono owns three restaurants in the county. He says private parties are a big part of his business and clients often order a large amount of a single specialty wine. “We ordered 14 cases of wine. We received three. ” And Pietrobono says that’s not unusual.

The night before the news conference, County Executive Ike Leggett’s office released a letter to Councilman Roger Berliner saying that assumptions that privatization of the county’s liquor business would result in increased consumption and sales “is not founded on anything more than guesswork about the causes for moderate consumption within the county and speculation about the impacts of privatization on sales and prices.”

Leggett opposes privatization efforts, saying the county brings in $30 million to $36 million in revenue from the sales.

Leggett has said restaurant and bar owners’ complaints about the department are “overblown.”

Council President Nancy Floreen has said in her 14 years on the council, she’s only heard one complaint.

Brian Vasile, owner of Brickside Food and Drink in Bethesda responded to Floreen’s comments saying “she must not be listening because I’ve been operating for three years, and I’ve complained from day one.”

Of Leggett, Vasile said, “He’s not in my business. These problems are real and they need to be addressed.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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