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April 09. 2012 5:20PM

Override already? City spending cap politics

It took a decade to make Manchester's spending cap a reality. Will aldermen dare negate a 10-year effort to restrain city spending by voting to override the cap on the very first budget to which it would apply?

They might. If they do, it will be a brazen act of political cowardice.

Voters approved the cap — twice — because it was the only way to get the aldermen to stand up to the city employee unions. They had used their electoral muscle to obtain excessively generous employment contracts that caused the city and school budgets to rise faster than the rate of inflation year after year after year.

Having had enough of that, the taxpayers began work in 2002 to amend the city charter to include a cap on city spending and tax increases. The aldermen and city employee unions fought back hard. They mounted several legal challenges, and at one point the aldermen even knowingly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of a state law to kill the cap.

Finally legislators intervened and the cap that voters approved in 2009 was able to take effect in time to limit the growth of this year's city budget. The limit for city spending growth this year is 1.4 percent.

Opening the teachers contract to ratchet back some of the overly generous benefits awarded over the years would help bring city spending under the cap. But it appears that most aldermen are so afraid of crossing the union that they would prefer instead to once again vote against the tax-payers.

If teachers union officials think that would be a political victory, they should remember that their contract is up next year — a city election year. City voters have proven that they want this cap, and they want it enforced. The public pressure to walk back generous pay and benefits would be greatly enhanced (potentially leading to greater cutbacks) if the spending cap is overridden this year for the purpose of protecting those benefits in defiance of the voters' wishes.


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