The city of Concord, the state capitol, has gone to court in an effort to head off a taxpayer revolt, the revolt taking the form of a petition to get the question of imposing a tax cap on the November ballot. (No direct link available, but the December 3rd issue of the Laconia Daily Sun can be found here.)
Petitioners, led by the conservative New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, sough to place an amendment adding a tax cap to the city charter on the general election ballot this year, but the City Council, in a decision upheld by the Superior Court, chose to postpone the vote until the municipal elections in November 2009. At the same time, the council filed suit, appealing the opinion of three state agencies required by law to approve charter amendments – the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue Administration – that the language of the amendment is consistent with the Constitution and state law.
The Concord City Council is taking the position that such a charter amendment is unconstitutional because it lies outside the “home rule” article in the state constitution. It seems the councilors don't like the idea of the taxpayers “gettin' uppity” and telling them how much they're going to be allowed to spend. By moving the ballot question to an off-year, the City Council knew voter turnout would be far lower than if the question had been on this year's ballot, giving the councilors a better chance of quashing the charter amendment.
A small number of other New Hampshire communities have already incorporated tax caps into their charters and they appear to be holding spending and taxes in check. However that could be in jeopardy should the Merrimack County Superior Court rule in Concord's favor. Such a decision could invalidate the tax cap portion of the charters of those municipalities, assuming such a decision isn't appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Tax caps have been a instrument to rein in profligate spending and rapidly increasing property taxes. They were enacted because the city or town governments weren't willing to do what was necessary to keep spending and taxes in check. For the most part the tax caps have been successful, forcing the cities and towns to keep a close eye on spending and make them better able to discriminate between nice-to-haves and need-to-haves. If Concord gets its way, all that will go out the window and the taxpayers will once again get the shaft...and the bill.
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