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Taxpayer standing: Give it back
Since the Civil War, taxpayers in New Hampshire have had the legal right to go to court to block a government action they thought to be illegal. That changed with a single state Supreme Court ruling two years ago. It needs to be changed back.
In a 2010 case called Baer vs. N.H. Department of Education, the court switched to a new interpretation of an old state law. The law had long been held to allow any taxpayer what is called “standing” in court, meaning the legal right to bring a lawsuit, to block an illegal government act.
Let's say your local government was going to enter into a contract illegally or violate its own zoning ordinances to build a new public building. Before 2010, any taxpayer in the town could sue for a declaratory judgment from a state court, meaning he or she could ask a court to decide the legality of that action before it was implemented. In Baer, the court decided that taxpayers may not sue to block illegal government actions unless they can show that the action they want to block harms them directly.
The new standard removes a longstanding check on the power of governments. It tells taxpayers that the illegal use of their tax dollars is not enough of a harm to them to justify letting them sue to prevent it.
The state Senate considers this week House Bill 1510 to restore the law to its pre-Baer standard. The Senate should follow the House in passing it.
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