Some city officials are voicing frustration and discontent over an effort to save Nashua’s spending cap, arguing a bill that was approved by the House of Representatives last week placed a bullseye on the Gate City.
“I am very disgusted. It has to go down in my 14 years in the State House as one of the most disgusting things,” said state Rep. Michael O’Brien, also a Nashua alderman. “ … It was a very shameful moment for bipartisan politics.”
Sen. Kevin Avard sponsored Senate Bill 52, which requires city charter exclusions and ordinances that allow for an override of a spending cap to require a supermajority vote. Nashua’s spending cap was previously deemed unenforceable by the courts because it does not contain an override provision.
The new bill, however, essentially fixes the loophole in the law and allows the previous adoption of Nashua’s spending cap to resume, which Avard said is still the will of the people.
Every state representative in Nashua voted against the bill on Friday — legislation that was kept alive when Speaker Sherman Packard created a 186-186 tie, which is “absolutely unheard of,” said state Rep. Patricia Klee, also a Nashua alderman; the bill went on to receive approval and is awaiting signing by Gov. Chris Sununu.
“This should not have been fixed in Concord. It should have been fixed here in Nashua,” said Klee, claiming the bill was specifically targeting the city.
“What I have an issue with is that this is a bill that solely bullseyed Nashua, nobody else, no other communities,” echoed O’Brien. “They all have override provisions in their charters, Nashua does not.”
Former alderman Fred Teeboom disagrees, saying the legislation does not target Nashua, but protects caps in place within eight cities and towns in New Hampshire. In addition, the bill reclaims the desire from Nashua voters to have a spending cap in place, he added.
“The cap is back,” Teeboom said on Wednesday, expressing his delight in a successful fight to restore Nashua’s spending cap — a fight that he has been leading since 2017.
Teeboom and another former alderman, Dan Moriarty previously filed a civil lawsuit against the city alleging that aldermen violated the city charter when they approved an ordinance in 2017 that removed $9 million in wastewater funds from the general fund budget without a formal vote to override the spending cap.
Moriarty said Wednesday that Nashua voters want a spending cap in place, and previously adopted it at the polls. They never envisioned that the mayor or Board of Aldermen would figure out how to bypass the intent of the spending cap, he said.
A Superior Court judge previously dismissed their lawsuit and stated that the city’s spending cap violates state law and is unenforceable. Teeboom appealed the matter, but the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that the city’s spending cap is unenforceable because it does not contain an override provision.
Avard’s bill fixes those technicalities, according to Teeboom.
“I am 100 percent glad that it has passed, without a doubt,” Moriarty said of the bill. “It protects all the caps across the state. This isn’t just Nashua’s problem.”
Donchess disagrees, saying Tuesday that the Legislature enacted a special bill applying only to Nashua — reinstating the cap even though it is not consistent with the state law that applies to all other cities.
“The irony is the state hits us, or makes the budget go up, and then says there should be a cap on it,” said Donchess.
He said the city’s pension contributions to the state have increased $4.4 million.
With his proposed city budget up $5.7 million, Donchess said $4.4 million of that increase is associated with the mandated pension increase.
If the bill is signed by the governor — it had not yet reached his desk on Wednesday afternoon — the city’s spending cap will be reinstated in 60 days, which will be after the city’s newest budget is approved.
Donchess’ proposed budget is up about 2%. If the cap were to be applied to his proposed spending plan, it would allow for a maximum increase of 1.7%.