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October 02. 2012 9:22PM

State's liquor commission's function getting hard look

CONCORD — One person should be responsible and accountable for the state's liquor business, said several members of the Special House Committee to Evaluate the NH State Liquor Commission on Tuesday.

“There is not a single, large corporation in the United States run by three people,” said Rep. Brandon Giuda, R-Chichester. “Give one person the authority and responsibility and make him accountable. With three people, there's no way of knowing where the buck stops.”

Several committee members wanted to see a more traditional management structure like other agencies with a commissioner and deputy commissioner, but others suggested that there be a board of directors or a legislative oversight committee monitoring the state's $600 million-a-year operation.

The committee has taken testimony for almost a month, hearing from various agency officials, state personnel heads and industry representatives as the members explore what can be done to change the commission's structure.

Several years ago, the agency was given greater autonomy to operate more like a business in order to better compete in a changing market and to maximize revenues for the state.

While no one suggested that the commission should function like most other state agencies, they did suggest lawmakers have greater oversight of the agency's budget and the Governor and Executive Council more oversight over contracts.

Several members of the committee noted the change to give the commission more flexibility has been successful as the agency produces greater and greater revenues for the state.

Rep. Ben Baroody, D-Manchester, noted that there have been a few problems over the last couple of years, but said the commissioners are new.

“I don't think the system is broken, maybe there were a couple of people not doing what they were supposed to do,” Baroody said. “The system works with the three commissioners.”

Others suggested the state become a liquor wholesaler and turn the retail operations over to the private sector. Giuda said the issue should be studied by an independent consultant to determine if such an arrangement would work.

Rep. Dan Mcguire, R-Chichester, said lawmakers should consider turning management over to the private sector while maintaining operations.

Others suggested that the commission needs to establish a wine policy and deal directly with manufacturers instead of purchasing wine through distributors. They also suggest the commission find a better way to promote local producers.

And others were concerned the commission makes up its rules as it goes along and does not follow what is written. Rep. Jordan Ulery, R-Hudson, said more oversight is needed.

“You need to follow the rules you have,” he said. “Don't make it up as you go along.”

Committee Chair Lynn Ober, R-Hudson, does not expect the committee to reach a consensus on what to propose.

The committee is to report its findings by November so lawmakers can take action next session.

grayno@unionleader.com


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