IT’S NOT OFTEN that senior executives from state agencies are called to the Executive Council table to justify their pay increases, but that’s what is expected on Feb. 6 when the governor and council will hear from Liquor Commission leaders.
The council was asked to authorize salary increases for the top four positions at the NHLC last Wednesday, and voted 4-1 to table the item at the request of Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord, a possible gubernatorial contender and self-appointed foil of the commission.
Volinsky has been on the warpath with the NHLC ever since he triggered an Attorney General investigation into alleged collaboration with bootleggers last year. The AG says so far he’s found no wrongdoing.
On Wednesday, Volinsky took issue with the raises on the council agenda, claiming NHLC expenses are up, sales growth is down and net revenues have been flat for the past six years. “I don’t think we should reward top management with raises,” he said.
We reported in September that the NHLC is spending so much on new wine and liquor outlets that rising expenses are affecting the bottom line. While gross sales have grown each year since 2014, net profits have declined from 24 percent to 22 percent — still a profit margin most enterprises would love it have.
More importantly from a political perspective, the NHLC has missed its target for deposits to the state general fund in every year since 2016, missing the target by 6 percent in 2018.
Councilors wanted someone from the liquor commission to answer a few questions, but no one from the agency was present. Democratic Councilor Mike Cryans of Hanover moved to table the raises until NHLC management can be heard from at the next meeting. That motion passed with only Republican Ted Gatsas of Manchester opposed.
Republican Russell Prescott made it clear he was voting with the three Democrats to table the request as a matter of courtesy to his fellow councilors.
“I think it’s collegial that when one of us asks for extra time, we do that,” he said, “but if things get delayed and delayed, I’m not going to be as collegial.”
The raises at issue are an increase for NHLC Chair Joseph W. Mollica, from $118,707 to $124,579; Director of Enforcement and Licensing Mark C. Armaganian, from $103,059 to $108,149; Deputy Commissioner Michael R. Milligan from $112,255 to $117,805; and Director of Marketing, Merchandising and Warehousing Nicole Brassard-Jordan, from $103,059 to $108,149.
A stand against pot
Gov. Chris Sununu got some strong allies in his fight to block legalization of marijuana in the Granite State, with a vote by the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drugs on Friday.
The governor made a pitch to the commission at its last monthly meeting, urging members of the 24-person panel to take a stand against legalization.
A legalization bill based largely on a road map provided by a legislative study committee has already been filed by House Minority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton. HB 481 is scheduled for its first public hearing on Feb. 5 at 1 p.m.
Voting to oppose legalization were representatives of New Hampshire hospitals, the Department of Health and Human Services; the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services; the Department of Corrections; the Liquor Commission; the N.H. Charitable Foundation; the Department of Safety and the Suicide Prevention Council.
Representatives from the Department of Education, the Insurance Department, the Judicial Branch, the National Guard and the Business and Industry Association abstained.
No one voted to support a legalization bill, so Sununu considers that a unanimous vote in support of his position.
“I am very pleased that the commission, composed of public health officials in the treatment, recovery, and prevention fields, unanimously came to the conclusion that now is not the time for the recreational legalization of cannabis in New Hampshire,” he said.
Arguing for annulments
The House convenes for its first full voting session on Thursday, with a fairly crowded calendar.
While no vote on marijuana legalization is expected until later in the session, HB 399, sponsored by Cushing, will be up for a vote.
The bill establishes a procedure for annulment of arrests or convictions for possession of three-quarters of an ounce or less of marijuana if the offense occurred before Sept. 16, 2017. That’s when the state law decriminalizing possession went into effect.
The bill was recommended “ought to pass” by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, chaired by Cushing, in an 18-2 vote.
An identical bill passed the House last year 314-24, but was tabled in the Senate 14-10.