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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Rift over NHLC probe widens

July 08. 2018 2:21AM

When leaders of the state employees union decided to make high-volume sales at state liquor stores a signature issue for 2018, they probably didn't anticipate it would cause a rift within the ranks. But it has, and the gap is widening by the day.

Many employees of the N.H. Liquor Commission may support the effort by the State Employees Association to bring attention to the fact that state liquor stores are the site of high-volume, cash transactions by alleged bootleggers from out of state.

But others feel union leadership launched the initiative with no meaningful input from members, and is now turning a deaf ear to their concerns.

After the New Hampshire Union Leader reported on a petition drive by some of those employees, and criticism of the NHLC initiative from a former SEA president and current union member in late June, the union sent an email to all members with the subject "SEA Business: Liquor Commission update," and the headline, "Setting the Record Straight."

Rather than calm the situation, that union message appears to have inflamed emotions among the dissenters, who feel they've been told their opinions don't matter.

"There is an abundance of misinformation, innuendo and inaccuracies being published, both internally by misinformed members and through the media," the message states.

It goes on to defend the fact that SEA leadership decided to launch the liquor commission investigation and engaged Democratic Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky in a controversial sting operation at a Keene store with no wider input from membership.

"No member who believes they are in harm's way, or who truly believes they are participating in a potentially illegal act, needs a chapter vote or a member poll to contact an elected official for help," states the email.

Dissenters like Ron Bilodeau, who works at a Manchester store, read that as a brush-off.

"I immediately started hearing from our colleagues around the state, who were either angered, stressed or fearful about the SEA's latest attempt to manage us into silence," he says.

Bilodeau launched a petition drive in early June, seeking a membership meeting with union leaders to discuss the situation.

"We have had 50 signatures so far. We just presented our request just last week," he says. "We would have had more, but employees are worried about retaliation from the union."

In an email of his own to fellow union members on June 22, Bilodeau called the SEA email "nothing more than an attempt at retaliation."

"They are trying to scare us into being quiet," he said

Former SEA President Diana Lacey, a Health and Human Services employee, took to an unofficial SEA Facebook page called R-SEA, with this post: "Sadly, the SEA is still not getting it. In fact, they are so not getting it that they foolishly insulted more than 50 members and fee payers who are up in arms about the SEA's handling of the hot mess President (Rich) Gulla ignited on Feb. 3."

At this point, everyone is waiting for the results of an investigation into the matter by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who is examining the practices of the liquor commission when it comes to large cash transactions and Volinsky's participation in the Keene sting operation.

Business tax bonanza

For those keeping score, revenue from business taxes set a new record for state fiscal year 2018, which ended on June 30, despite two rounds of business tax cuts since 2015.

The past high-water mark for business taxes was at the end of fiscal year 2016, when the number hit nearly $700 million, with a nice bump in part from taxes the state collected when Planet Fitness issued its first public stock offering.

The number dipped for fiscal year 2017, when the state closed the books with nearly $638 million in revenue from the Business Enterprise Tax and Business Profits Tax.

The 2018 number, aided by federal tax reform and the "repatriation" of corporate money previously held overseas, blew away all previous records with more than $774 million in the bank.

And the cuts are scheduled to continue.

The Business Enterprise Tax, essentially a payroll tax, is scheduled to be lowered to 0.50 percent by 2021, while the Business Profits Tax, a corporate income tax, would decrease to 7.5 percent by that time. That compares to a BPT of 8.5 percent and a BET of 0.75 percent three years ago.

When all is said and done, the BET will be cut by 33 percent from 2015 levels and the BPT by more than 10 percent.

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