Tag Archives: Department of Liquor Control

Poll: MoCo Voters Oppose County Alcohol Monopoly

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Adam Pagnucco:

A poll commissioned by Comptroller Peter Franchot has found massive opposition to Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly.

Among those polled, 69% support eliminating the County monopoly with slightly  higher levels of support for repeal–74%–among people who describe themselves as definite voters. The results indicate that residents across party, gender, age, education and ideological lines favor getting rid of the laws granting the county control over alcohol sales.

The poll question was asked in a broader statewide poll on a number of issues.  The statewide poll, conducted by Normington, Petts & Associates in September 2015, had roughly 500 respondents with 84 in Montgomery.

The MoCo residents were asked whether they favor or oppose a “proposal to get rid of the laws making Montgomery County an alcohol controlled county.”  Following are the responses from each segment of the poll with a sample size of at least 20 respondents.

(Editor’s Note: Though 84 is a small sample size with an inevitably large margin of error of 10.9%, the difference between the share of favor and oppose getting rid of the monopoly is so large that it is statistically significant despite the small sample.)

Do you favor or oppose a proposal to get rid of the laws making Montgomery County an alcohol controlled county?

Full Sample (N=84)
Strongly favor                       48%
Somewhat favor                  21
Somewhat oppose               6
Strongly oppose                  17
Don’t know                              7

Total favor                              69
Total oppose                         24

Definite Voters (N=72)
Strongly favor                       52%
Somewhat favor                  22
Somewhat oppose               5
Strongly oppose                  14
Don’t know                              7

Total favor                              74
Total oppose                         19

Men (N=51)
Strongly favor                       55%
Somewhat favor                  18
Somewhat oppose               6
Strongly oppose                  18
Don’t know                              3

Total favor                              73
Total oppose                         24

Women (N=34)
Strongly favor                       38%
Somewhat favor                  26
Somewhat oppose               6
Strongly oppose                  16
Don’t know                            13

Total favor                              64
Total oppose                         23

Age 18-44 (N=30)
Strongly favor                       57%
Somewhat favor                  20
Somewhat oppose               0
Strongly oppose                  18
Don’t know                              4

Total favor                              78
Total oppose                         18

Age 45-59 (N=34)
Strongly favor                       49%
Somewhat favor                  20
Somewhat oppose               9
Strongly oppose                  14
Don’t know                              8

Total favor                              69
Total oppose                         23

Age 60+ (N=20)
Strongly favor                       34%
Somewhat favor                  25
Somewhat oppose             11
Strongly oppose                  23
Don’t know                              8

Total favor                              58
Total oppose                         34

Education, some college or less (N=23)
Strongly favor                       38%
Somewhat favor                  14
Somewhat oppose             12
Strongly oppose                  27
Don’t know                              9

Total favor                              52
Total oppose                         39

Education, college graduate or more (N=60)
Strongly favor                       53%
Somewhat favor                  22
Somewhat oppose               4
Strongly oppose                  14
Don’t know                              6

Total favor                              75
Total oppose                         18

Registered Democrats (N=46)
Strongly favor                       50%
Somewhat favor                  17
Somewhat oppose               9
Strongly oppose                  19
Don’t know                              5

Total favor                              67
Total oppose                         28

Registered Republicans (N=23)
Strongly favor                       42%
Somewhat favor                  25
Somewhat oppose               4
Strongly oppose                  18
Don’t know                            11

Total favor                              67
Total oppose                         22

Liberal Ideology (N=29)
Strongly favor                       52%
Somewhat favor                  14
Somewhat oppose               4
Strongly oppose                  24
Don’t know                              6

Total favor                              65
Total oppose                         29

Moderate Ideology (N=25)
Strongly favor                       60%
Somewhat favor                  17
Somewhat oppose               7
Strongly oppose                    7
Don’t know                              9

Total favor                              77
Total oppose                         14

Conservative Ideology (N=31)
Strongly favor                       36%
Somewhat favor                  31
Somewhat oppose               8
Strongly oppose                  19
Don’t know                              6

Total favor                              67
Total oppose                         27

The poll has an important caveat: its small sample size.  However, it was conducted by a respected national polling firm with decades of experience and lots of clients around the country.  Furthermore, its results are consistent: every demographic asked favored ending MoCo’s status as an alcohol control jurisdiction.  Democrats and Republicans have many disagreements, as do liberals and conservatives.  But in MoCo, they agree on one thing:

End the Monopoly.

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Adam Replies to Gino on Liquor Control, Part III

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

My reply to MCGEO President Gino Renne’s response to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) concludes.

  1. The union says that if DLC were eliminated, union jobs would be replaced by non-union jobs.

MCGEO: “Mr. Pagnucco claims that privatization would not result in the loss of high paying union jobs. This is his most egregious of claims, especially for a former union employee. Where’s the evidence that ‘many private wholesalers’ are represented by IBT? Or even evidence that union membership will not suffer a net loss? Mr. Pagnucco needs to explain himself on this one.”

I’m happy to do so. As MCGEO states, I am a former union employee. I spent sixteen years working as a strategic researcher on organizing campaigns in the building trades. When President Renne writes, “It’s extremely difficult to organize a union in your workplace these days,” he’s absolutely correct. I have seen the extreme tactics that some employers use to keep their workers from unionizing. If I thought that the only alternative to DLC was a group of exclusively non-union employers, I would have misgivings about that.

Fortunately, that is not the case here. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been organizing beverage manufacturers and distributors for more than a century and has a Brewery and Soft Drink Conference to represent their workers. The union is also active in our local area. Washington Wholesale LLC, a distributor in D.C., is organized by Teamsters Local 639. Republic National Distributing Company, the second-largest distributor in the nation, is organized in Maryland by Teamsters Local 355. Reliable Churchill LLLP, the largest distributor in Maryland, is organized by Teamsters Local 570. If DLC loses market share to the private sector, it’s likely that unionized firms like these will pick up at least part of it.

This is deeply troubling to President Renne because non-union workers and Teamsters members have one thing in common: neither group pays dues to MCGEO. And that’s the real issue here.

So here’s a question for President Renne: what would happen if private distributors were allowed to compete with DLC? Restaurants and retailers who are happy with DLC could stay with them. Those who are unhappy could buy from the private sector. If DLC has lower prices as MCGEO claims and if their customer service is improving, they should hold on to most of their market share. If not, why should they be protected by a state-mandated monopoly? What do you say, President Renne? Can your members compete with the Teamsters?

  1. The union defends the County Council’s proposed “do-nothing fee” for DLC.

MCGEO: “The ‘fee’ Mr. Pagnucco complains about is paid by the distributor to allow for its participation in the Montgomery County market. Its structure has not yet been determined, just that there will be a fee.”

A quick briefer on the do-nothing fee. DLC has many commonly consumed beverages in its regular stock, but it often has trouble filling orders for specialty items it does not usually carry. These are known as special orders. Here’s a typical complaint:

Mike Hill, general manager of Adega Wine Cellars & Café in Silver Spring, said they have problems getting specialty wines and craft beer.

“If we like a beer or wine and we want to bring that into our store, the turnaround time can be eight days if we’re lucky or two to three months to not at all in some cases,” Hill said.

The County Council has recommended that restaurants and retailers be allowed to go directly to private distributors for special orders, but there are two big caveats. First, DLC determines what is in its regular stock and what is a special order. Second, the council wants to allow DLC to collect a fee on any direct sale by a distributor to “replace DLC estimated revenue lost by allowing the sale of special order beer and wines by private wholesalers.”

DLC loves this because it will get paid without having to do any work. Distributors aren’t so crazy about it. They would have to incur the costs of direct delivery to customers (of shipments that in some cases would be very small) and pay the extra fee on top to DLC because… well, the county just wants the money. Multiple distributors predicted in a hearing before the council that the economics would prevent them from participating in such a “reform.”

But the attitude behind the do-nothing fee is itself even worse. Whoever came up with this idea must believe that our county is soooooo much better than all of our neighbors that we can get away with imposing ridiculous impediments to doing business that no one else in our area would dare to do. Well guess what, folks? Residents and businesses have options. MoCo is a great place to live, shop and work, but so are the District, Frederick, Howard, Northern Virginia and most places near here. If you put enough measures in place to punish employers and consumers, they can and will go elsewhere. That’s the problem with the do-nothing fee and, indeed, DLC itself.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, the state’s top enforcer of alcohol laws and a MoCo resident, says of DLC, “Montgomery County is the last bastion of a medieval state system where the county, if you can believe it, sells all the spirits, alcohol, and we’re not just talking retail, we’re talking wholesale… This is a system that is incredibly slanted against the consumer and the ordinary citizen.”

He’s right. Why are we putting up with this? No one else in the Washington metro area has to deal with anything like this. We are the only ones.

It’s time for a revolt. It’s time to End the Monopoly.

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Adam Replies to Gino on Liquor Control, Part II

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

My reply to MCGEO President Gino Renne’s response to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) continues.

  1. The union claims that state monopolies on alcohol sales enhance public safety.

MCGEO: “Dr. Roland Zullo, a research scientist at the University of Michigan, examined the impact of state ownership of retail alcohol distribution on 23 different crimes grouped in six categories. Dr. Zullo finds that state control of retail alcohol distribution is associated with statistically significant reductions in crimes that have been linked to alcohol consumption, including domestic abuse, assault, and fraud. Control states also had lower rates for vehicle theft and vandalism (using a slightly lower threshold for statistical significance, the 10% rather than the 5% level).”

Guess what? This “research” was financed in part by DLC. That’s right, the study MCGEO is citing is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed working paper paid for by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), a trade group of government alcohol merchants. George Griffin, DLC’s Executive Director, is a former President of NABCA and a current member of its board. The organization’s budget is partially financed by dues payments from its members, one of whom is DLC. NABCA is fighting efforts to end government alcohol monopolies and was greatly dismayed when Washington state voters got rid of their state monopoly in 2011. So NABCA paid for the working paper cited by MCGEO and it was completed a year and a half later.

For what it’s worth, the study found no statistically significant relationship between state control of alcohol sales and crime for 20 of the 23 measures it examined. Maybe NABCA needs to pay for a better study!

  1. The union opposes blogging(!)

Maybe this is beside the point, but it is too hilarious for me to resist.

MCGEO: “This [County Council DLC] resolution came after months of hearings, testimony and input from stakeholders. If you don’t like the way the process was playing out, Mr. Pagnucco, why didn’t you participate in it? Why are you using your friend’s blog to post your opinion without allowing for public input or participating in the public forum?”

So MCGEO regards blogging as an illegitimate way to participate in public discussions. Who knew? I have a long history of writing in favor of MCGEO’s positions and they have never before uttered a peep of protest. To the contrary; they republished two of my blogs on their website and used another on a handout. Their former Executive Director once asked me to write a piece supporting legislation the union wanted that would have allowed library workers to unionize, and since I favored the bill, I did. But in the one instance when I have publicly disagreed with them, I am told to cease my annoying prattling!

Do you think that MCGEO will resume its recognition of the value of blogging once I start agreeing with them again?

I will finish up tomorrow.

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Adam’s Reply to Gino on Liquor Control, Part I

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

Last week, MCGEO President Gino Renne, leader of the local union that represents most Montgomery County employees, responded to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC). President Renne has led MCGEO for more than twenty years and is an aggressive advocate for his members. I appreciate his taking the time to talk about DLC on Seventh State.

A few of his statements deserve examination. Let’s start with the one that is arguably most important to county consumers.

  1. The union claims DLC, an extra middle-man with an extra mark-up, actually has lower prices than our neighbors.

MCGEO: “Across all categories except special order beer, costs are 2-10 percent cheaper than neighboring jurisdictions.”

David Lublin put this argument to shame through his price comparison of DLC and Total Wine, which refuses to open a store in MoCo. Now let’s be fair: Total Wine not only blows away DLC, they beat almost everyone on price. How do they do it? The company explains:

We are committed to having the best wine selection with an emphasis on fine wines. This differentiates us from many retailers in the United States who specialize in one geographic area or price category. Our typical store carries more than 8,000 different wines from every wine-producing region in the world.

In addition to a world-class selection of fine wines, the typical Total Wine & More also carries more than 2,500 beers, from America‘s most popular beers to hard-to-find microbrews and imports, and more than 3,000 different spirits from every price range and category.

Total Wine & More is committed to having the lowest prices on wine, spirits and beer every day. Our tremendous buying power and special relationships with producers, importers, and wholesalers offers us considerable savings, which we pass on to our customers.

This business model is very difficult to implement with an extra middle-man interfering with the supply chain, especially one like DLC that is notorious for botching orders of specialty beer and wine. And so Total Wine will not open a store here even though its headquarters is in MoCo and its founders live here. MoCo customers are forced to drive long distances to access the company’s selection and low prices, and they do. Total Wine estimates that MoCo residents account for more than 20% of sales at its McLean, Virginia store and almost 25% of sales at its Laurel store.

But let’s set aside Total Wine for a moment and examine MCGEO’s assertion further. If DLC offers lower prices as they contend, that would be great news. Non-residents would be flocking into MoCo to get deals. We might even expect a proliferation of MoCo stores close to the county’s borders ready to lure non-residents in.

In fact, the opposite is true. There at least seven D.C. liquor stores within four blocks of the MoCo border. See the map below. The one DLC store near the border is in Friendship Heights and it is the only DLC store that is losing money. How is it possible for DLC to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by selling alcohol to rich people? Perhaps one reason is that the District’s Paul’s Wine and Spirits is just three blocks away.

DC liquor stores

Alcohol sales data collected by the Maryland Comptroller’s office suggests substantial flight of customers away from MoCo. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Gallup find positive correlations between alcohol consumption and education level, while Gallup finds an additional correlation with high incomes. Since MoCo is one of the highest-income and most-educated counties in the state, it should be a mecca for alcohol sales. But that is far from the truth. In terms of per capita sales deliveries to retail licensees inside each county, MoCo ranks 13th of 24 jurisdictions in wine, tied for 23rd in spirits and dead last (by far) in beer. Among the counties out-ranking MoCo in per capita wine sales are Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford and Kent, all mostly rural jurisdictions with far less disposable income than MoCo. Comptroller Peter Franchot, the principal enforcer of state alcohol laws and himself a MoCo resident, says of DLC, “Most people in Montgomery County go to Prince George’s, the District or Virginia to buy their alcohol because it’s such a disgrace.”

I will have more tomorrow.

 

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MCGEO’s Ridiculous Claim that the Department of Liquor Control Saves Consumers Money

Yesterday, I published a reply by MCGEO’s Gino Renne to Adam Pagnucco’s guest blog on Montgomery’s Liquor Control Regime. In his reply, Renne attacks Pagnucco’s claim that the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) raises prices:

In his first false claim, Mr. Pagnucco claims that DLC’s operations increase costs for the consumer. Across all categories except special order beer, costs are 2-10 percent cheaper than neighboring jurisdictions.

This claim struck me as incredible, so I decided to do a sampling of wine prices at a Montgomery County Liquor Store and Total Wine in McLean, Virginia. I focused on comparatively affordable wines and picked out some first at the DLC store and others from Total Wine, and did not know the price of the wine at the other store when I selected it (i.e. no cherry picking).

The results are presented in the following table:

wine

Among the 26 wines, DLC doesn’t carry seven–I checked with the cashier who searched the computer. Only one wine was cheaper at the DLC store and another at the same price, and these two bottles were on sale.

Looking only at the 12 wines currently offered at a discount at Montgomery DLC stores revealed that even their sales tend to be lousy deals. The discounted prices on these wines were an average of 21.9% higher than at Total Wine. When this same set of wines is not on sale, the difference rises to 44.0%.

Examining the larger basket of 19 wines available at both stores shows that regular prices in DLC stores average 36.4% higher that at Total Wine across the river. Put another way, it would cost you an extra $89.04 (plus tax) to buy them in Maryland.

If Gino Renne begins his argument for maintaining the status quo with an obvious, easily disproved falsehood, why should anyone believe anything else he or MCGEO has to say on the subject?

Here is the real capper: Total Wine has its headquarters in Montgomery County but it cannot open one of its (nicer than DLC) stores and offer the same prices here. If you want to know why, look no further than MCGEO and the County Council.

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MCGEO Responds to Pagnucco on Montgomery’s Liquor Control Regime

Gino Renne, President of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, Responds to Seventh State’s Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco on Privatization of Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control:

Mr. Pagnucco opens his blog by stating that, “Few issues in county government have received more attention over the past two years than the operations of its Department of Liquor Control (DLC).” What a distraction! There are a lot of issues in Montgomery County’s Government that have received attention over the past two years, only one of which, the privatization of the DLC, seems to be receiving a lot of attention from the privileged elite in the County. Most of the County’s residents see far more pressing issues – the funding of the Purple Line, improving other parts of the County’s transportation infrastructure, increasing affordability of housing, and generally serving the needs of our county’s less-than-privileged with better wages, better economic opportunities and better public services. But since Mr. Pagnucco seems to think that we need to privatize DLC and claims that there are a bunch of “myths” surrounding DLC privatization, and he is using a one-sided platform to promote privatization rather than attend the Ad Hoc committees numerous public hearings and meetings, we’ll bite.

In his first false claim, Mr. Pagnucco claims that DLC’s operations increase costs for the consumer. Across all categories except special order beer, costs are 2-10 percent cheaper than neighboring jurisdictions. Many of the smaller retailers are against privatization primarily for the reason that DLC levels the playing field and keeps costs even.

Myth 1: Mr. Pagnucco claims that the County does not need DLC’s net income to function.

Actually, it does. Montgomery County, MD will owe $165,534,675 from 2015-2034 in debt service of revenue bonds that are currently paid through the revenues generated by the Montgomery County DLC. Additionally, the OLO report states that DLC has generated an average of $25.7 mill per year over past decade. That figure is nearly the entire Recreation Department or Library budget. Not chump change. The OLO report acknowledges potential lost revenue that will need to be made up through various fees, auctioning of licenses or a dedicated sales tax. However, the OLO report factors in no additional costs that would occur under a transition from county control to private enterprise. There would be leases to be paid, buyouts for early retirement, increased costs for enforcement and public health issues, etc.

While it’s easy to agree that the County will find a way to adjust, why should it? It has a guaranteed source of revenue that you propose the County throw away to make it easier for consumers to buy when there’s also no guarantee that consumption would increase. In Washington State, after privatization, sales only increased by 6% in its first year, while the next year data shows no increase. In addition, with increased prices, many consumers near the Oregon border are visiting liquor stores there to bypass the price increases. If privatization here were to follow the trends in Washington State, we’d definitely lose revenue to our neighboring jurisdictions.

Pennsylvania’s public liquor stores, which just beat back efforts to privatize, have reported a record boost in sales that are said to be due to improvements and modernization. A liquor board member said that people living in a border area are returning to shop in Pennsylvania stores because of the improvements.

A better solution is to keep the current public model in place with its fair prices and guaranteed revenue while expanding DLC stores. The resolution passed by the Council last week allows for this solution.

In Myth 2, Mr. Pagnucco claims that DLC monopoly isn’t needed for public safety, quoting decreased DUI and drunk driving arrests in newly privatized Washington State as evidence.

An official with an ALEC-connected think tank in Washington notes that this claim doesn’t really hold water. “Privatization didn’t improve the numbers necessarily but it didn’t make it any worse either.” A Washington state police spokesman adds, “I don’t think you can draw a correlation that because of private sales now we have fewer alcohol related arrests. The number of arrests is much more directly connected to the number of police officers out there actually patrolling.” The state police official notes that there are 80 fewer state troopers than previously, which has led to the decline in arrests. Couple that with legalization of marijuana in that same time period, one can draw the conclusion that arrests could have just as easily declined due to substitution of one drug of choice for another.

Tori Cooke, president of the Montgomery County FOP, testified that privatization would create public health and safety issues that are not easily addressed. And he and his fellow officers are against any efforts to privatize.

Dr. Roland Zullo, a research scientist at the University of Michigan, examined the impact of state ownership of retail alcohol distribution on 23 different crimes grouped in six categories. Dr. Zullo finds that state control of retail alcohol distribution is associated with statistically significant reductions in crimes that have been linked to alcohol consumption, including domestic abuse, assault, and fraud. Control states also had lower rates for vehicle theft and vandalism (using a slightly lower threshold for statistical significance, the 10% rather than the 5% level).

In Myth 3, Mr. Pagnucco claims that privatization would not result in the loss of high paying union jobs.

This is his most egregious of claims, especially for a former union employee. Where’s the evidence that “many private wholesalers” are represented by IBT? Or even evidence that union membership will not suffer a net loss? Mr. Pagnucco needs to explain himself on this one. I don’t know how he sees that transition occurring.

These are our members; it’s our job to protect them and to protect unions in general. It’s a public policy issue. There are societal costs. How much is it going to cost to put these people on the streets? Where are the high paying jobs that are family supporting and middle class sustaining going to come from for these 400 employees? I doubt we’ll see them at the mom and pop shops that could pop up if privatization were to occur. It’s extremely difficult to organize a union in your workplace these days. Although the NLRB is trying to speed up the process, the length of time from a certification election to a first contract can still take years. Union busters find many successful ways to stop a union campaign, as Mr. Pagnucco well knows.

DLC is able to provide good jobs with benefits while generating tens of millions to county coffers. Meanwhile, privatization will create minimum wage liquor clerk, warehouse and delivery jobs with little-to-no benefits that will exacerbate our economic inequality in this county. Sure, privatization could create union organizing opportunities, but no way it would create net gains in union membership.

In Myth 4, Mr. Pagnucco claims that the DLC is not getting better.

First and foremost, the fraud, waste and abuse in the private liquor industry is as rampant as it is in the public sector, if not more. But, because it’s private industry, it isn’t enforced or prosecuted very often or as publicly. In 2006, eight wholesalers in New York were ordered to pay $1.6 million in fines and costs for a “pay to play” scheme that favored larger retailers and provided discounts and inducements to those willing to pay. Meanwhile, smaller licensees were forced to cope. Under DLC’s structure, small licensees are given the same treatment as larger purchasers. With oversight, the DLC is forced to answer for its practices and it does. Private industry will not be given the same oversight.

Secondly, the DLC was hamstrung by technology purchases that were inappropriate for its needs and a hiring freeze, forcing customer service to suffer. Both of these were county mandates, not DLC-specific. It’s now been given the go ahead to hire and has made significant strides on that front. The ordering system is getting its revamp as well.

Yes, we agree that the system needs to be more nimble – it shouldn’t be forced to follow county-imposed hiring freezes and should be allowed to buy technology that specifically fits its needs, especially since it is a self-funded department.

In Myth 5, Mr. Pagnucco claims that the resolution to allow private wholesalers to fulfill sales of special order items is not “historic reform.”

We agree, it’s not “historic.” That’s hyperbole used for political purposes but it is a significant change for the department. Part of the change should make the DLC more nimble and part of the change should allow for expansion of the DLC’s store base. The “fee” Mr. Pagnucco complains about is paid by the distributor to allow for its participation in the Montgomery County market. Its structure has not yet been determined, just that there will be a fee.

Comparing the County DLC to the USSR’s failed perestroika? Really? I hope all readers realized that this is an absolutely absurd comparison. This resolution came after months of hearings, testimony and input from stakeholders. If you don’t like the way the process was playing out, Mr. Pagnucco, why didn’t you participate in it? Why are you using your friend’s blog to post your opinion without allowing for public input or participating in the public forum?

Again, I will emphasize there are much larger issues facing Montgomery County residents than from whom they can buy their liquor or wine. You need to respect the process and move on from this DLC issue and tackle our real problems.

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Five Myths About MoCo’s Department of Liquor Control

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Adam Pagnucco.

Few issues in county government have received more attention over the past two years than the operations of its Department of Liquor Control (DLC). In most parts of the United States, the alcohol industry has been divided into three tiers since the end of Prohibition: producers, distributors and retailers. DLC, which is a county department but derives its authority from state law, inserts itself into this structure as an extra middle-man between distributors and retailers. Instead of being able to sell directly to Montgomery County-based retailers, distributors must sell their products to DLC which in turn sells them to stores and restaurants. DLC then charges an extra mark-up which, after paying for its cost of operations, is returned to the county’s general fund as revenue. DLC also has a complete wholesale and retail monopoly on hard alcohol and sells it through county stores.

A sure way to increase costs, delays and inefficiencies in any distribution system is to add more middle-men, especially ones who do not add value to compensate for their fees. DLC is no exception and has been the subject of complaints for years. But mounting problems, growing press interest and the emergence of the agency as a political issue in last year’s election have brought DLC to the forefront of public attention.

It’s time for a hard look at the myth and reality of DLC.

Myth 1. The county needs DLC’s net income to function.

In Fiscal Year 2016, DLC is expected to transfer $24.5 million in net income to the county’s general fund. That amount represents 0.48% of the county’s total $5.1 billion in projected revenues.

The county regularly adapts to revenue shortfalls of much larger amounts. Its six-year fiscal plans contain revenue estimates that vary up and down by tens of millions of dollars before actual revenues are recorded. The council just approved a $54 million reduction in its recently passed operating budget. The Silver Spring Transit Center is $50 million over budget (and counting). Between Fiscal Years 2013 and 2015, the council reduced energy tax revenues by a cumulative $31 million per year. And in 2010, the council approved a $191 million reduction from the prior year’s tax-supported budget. None of these adjustments were painless, but the county got through them and the world did not end.

The county government can survive without DLC’s money. It simply chooses to collect it because it can.

Myth 2. DLC’s monopoly is needed for public safety.

Last year, Council Member Craig Rice claimed that “county control of liquor sales promotes safety, particularly when it comes to sales to those who are under age 21.” The DLC does indeed vigorously regulate alcohol licensees. It has an eleven-person Licensure, Regulation, and Education program that conducts 400 minor consumption compliance checks annually and trained more than 1,300 licensees in safe alcohol service last year. Additionally, the county’s Board of License Commissioners issues liquor licenses and can revoke and suspend them for violators. But these functions are separate from the county’s role as an alcohol merchant and do not depend on a sales monopoly to be effective. In fact, there is no evidence that the county’s monopoly itself contributes one way or the other to regulatory efficacy. In Washington State, which gave up its alcohol sales monopoly in 2012, both DUI arrests and drunk driving collisions actually FELL a year later.

Myth 3. Without DLC, high paying union jobs will be lost.

This claim is frequently made by MCGEO (Municipal and County Government Employees Organization), the union which represents more than 300 DLC employees along with many other rank-and-file workers in county government. The union has a responsibility to protect its members and generally does an excellent job of it, so its position is understandable. But if DLC’s operations are eventually eclipsed by the private sector, there is no guarantee that union employment will suffer a net loss. That is because many private wholesalers are organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, another union noted for its aggressive defense of its members. MCGEO may prefer that wholesale alcohol employees pay dues to its treasury rather than the coffers of the Teamsters, but that is not a public policy concern that warrants large-scale extractions from county residents.

Myth 4. DLC is getting better.

George Griffin, the long-time Director of DLC, is a happy warrior and tireless defender of his agency. In 2005, Griffin was elected President of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), a group of public alcohol organizations. He told NABCA of his efforts to continually improve DLC’s operations, including its new Enterprise Resource Planning program to increase efficiency and its installation of security cameras in warehouses. Griffin said, “POS (point of sale), inventory control, accounting, the warehouse, licensee ordering, buyers: they’ll all be tied together… from the retail stores, which will have running inventories, to our drivers, who will be equipped with handhelds.”

Years later, subsequent investigations revealed DLC to be anything but a model of efficiency. This past February, the county’s Inspector General found that DLC employees used “informal, handwritten notes” to track inventory, resulting in “significant decreases in the recorded quantities of warehouse inventories in FY2013 and FY2014.” NBC4 discovered DLC employees drinking and driving on the job and skimming cases of beer to sell on the black market. Restaurant owners have gone on the record with searing complaints about DLC’s service, with one even calling the agency an “evil empire.” Even Gino Renne, leader of the union that represents DLC’s employees and one of its biggest defenders, concedes, “This department needs to be more nimble.”

Myth 5. The County Council has called for “historic reform” at DLC.

On July 28, the County Council passed a resolution calling for a procedural change concerning some of DLC’s sales. The resolution is not binding but may be the basis for a future state-level bill, which is required to affect DLC. County Council Member Hans Riemer called the resolution “historic” in a mass email. But is it really?

The resolution addresses “special orders,” or products that are requested by DLC customers that are not part of its regular stock. These products are often specialty wines or craft beers that have not yet developed wide distribution in the county. Restauranteurs have complained for many years that DLC special orders are subject to long delays, big markups and substantial shortages, particularly when compared to the service offered by private wholesalers. The council’s resolution would allow customers to bypass DLC and deal directly with the private sector when requesting these items.

That sounds great except when considering the actual details of the resolution itself. Among other things, the resolution authorizes the county to establish a fee to “replace DLC estimated revenue lost by allowing the sale of special order beer and wines by private wholesalers.” That’s right, DLC would earn money on alcohol it does not even deliver. Multiple distributors testified at the council’s hearing on this resolution that the size of the fee, along with the additional cost of direct delivery to customers, might deter them from participating in this program. In other words, there would be no effective change.

DLC’s fee for doing nothing is reminiscent of Pepco’s “bill stabilization adjustment,” under which the utility was allowed to charge customers for power it did not deliver during outages. Many people condemned Pepco’s ability to charge for a service it did not provide. But Pepco is not part of county government. Perhaps that explains why what is unacceptable for Pepco is apparently acceptable for DLC.

The biggest myth of all is that DLC can be reformed from within by a series of small tweaks like this one. The idea resembles former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s concept of “perestroika,” under which his communist government was expected to reform itself. The Soviet Union ultimately collapsed. But with its powerful protectors, DLC goes ever on.

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