Critics of Montgomery County's liquor monopoly unhappy with controversial new flyer in stores

Is Montgomery County's government using tax dollars on a publicity campaign that threatens tax hikes if its liquor monopoly is broken up?

Opponents of the county's exclusive control of liquor sales are calling foul after flyers started appearing in county liquor stores over the holiday. Now, some lawmakers who have been fighting liquor control are demanding answers.

If you want to buy beer, wine or liquor in Montgomery County, that item comes from a warehouse owned and operated by the county's Department of Liquor Control.

A fight to end that control is underway, but the Department of Liquor Control is not giving up easy, and now critics say they have gone too far.

At issue is a flyer that started showing up in liquor control stores over the holiday. At first glance, it thanks customers who actually don't have any say in doing business with the county because of its exclusive control.

But after claiming its system put $35 million into the county coffers every year, the flyer goes on warn customers that if the Department of Liquor Control is eliminated, every county household would face a $100 property tax hike.

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who has been a critic of the county's liquor control, said it is not appropriate for the county's own Office of Public Information to be putting out what might be viewed as a threat. The head of the office that put out the flyer said they are simply trying to educate the public.

"In this case, this is simply the fact," said Patrick Lacefield, director of the Office of Public Information. "If you take this money away, you've got to make it up one way or another."

"I think it's wrong," said Riemer. "What we need to do right now is reform the Department of Liquor Control. We need to partially privatize it. We should not be engaging in a big campaign to defend it. We need to fix it."

Liquor control has been here since prohibition ended in the 1930s, but 2016 could finally bring some change. State lawmakers in Annapolis as well as Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot will have competing bills this year aimed at bringing Montgomery County's monopoly to an end.