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'Problematic': The virtue of the city tax cap

February 10. 2013 12:43AM

Manchester Finance Director Bill Sanders says the city's tax and spending cap makes it harder to increase city spending. Well. We can't have that, can we?

Speaking at last Wednesday's meeting of the city Charter Commission, Sanders said, "This dual cap and revenue equation, which is so hard and arcane, will be a challenge in the future, a very serious challenge."

He continued: "As long as state funding stays flat and expenses keep going up, if we can't raise property taxes - if the aldermen don't have the option to do that, or don't have the political will - there will have to be a cost reduction in other areas."

To sum up: The cap, twice approved by voters, limits both tax and spending increases. That, says Sanders, will result in "a cost reduction" if "aldermen don't have the option" or "the political will" to override the cap. To this, one might add, "Yes, and?"

Before Frank Guinta was elected mayor, Manchester taxpayers endured six straight years of tax increases.

In just the four years from 2001-2005, Manchester's tax rate rose by 20.5 percent. Angered by the arrogance of a city government that asserted without apology that spending, and the taxes to fund it, simply had to rise every year, voters approved a tax and spending cap. A coalition of unions and pro-spending activists got the cap struck down in court, and voters quickly approved another one. This in a city dominated politically by Democrats.

The cap does allow spending and taxes to exceed the rate of inflation and population growth - but only by the vote of 10 aldermen. Voters installed that emergency release valve for ... emergencies. Sanders suggested dropping the required supermajority from 10 to 8, thus loosening the valve. In a city that routinely elects more than eight members of one political party to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, this would change the cap from a restraint to a suggestion.

The voters put the cap in place - twice - to do exactly what Sanders complains it will do: force city officials to cut the budget so the people don't have to cut theirs.

The tax cap is "problematic" for city officials by design - because without it, constant tax increases are problematic for everyone else.

Politics Editorial Manchester

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