A Fundamental Right to Limit Government
By Robert Romano
“The citizens of Concord have a fundamental right to enact a charter amendment that limits both taxes and spending. The people are not required to pay a certain level of taxes by law, and the city is not overall required spend at a minimum level.”—President of New Hampshire Advantage Coalition Mike Biundo.
Long ago, America was founded upon the constitutional principles of limited government and the rule of law. Power was and is derived from the people. However, the very idea of the people—and the consent of the governed—being the primary source of power in our democracy may be fading.
In Concord, New Hampshire, an amendment to the city's charter to limit tax and spending increases to be voted upon in 2009 may be removed from the ballot by the Merrimack Superior Court if the City Solicitior, Paul Cavanaugh, has his way. He believes that Concord has “mandatory” spending with which it must engage.
The amendment itself would restrict tax and spending increases to no more than increases in the Consumer Price Index:
“34-a Limitation on Budget Increase…
“III. Budget limitation in a revaluation year. When the City Council accepts an increase in real estate values as the result of a City wide revaluation, the City Council shall adhere to a maximum increase in the real estate tax revenues as follows: The real estate taxes raised from the prior budget year shall be increased by a factor no more than the change in the National Consumer Price Index- Urban as published by the United States Department of Labor for the calendar year immediately preceding budget adoption, then this figure shall be used in establishing the new municipal budget.
“IV. Budget limitation with annual changes in assessments. When annual changes in real estate values occur as a result of State of New Hampshire assessing requirements, the City Council shall adhere to a maximum increase in real estate tax revenues as follows: The real estate taxes raised from the prior year shall be increased by a factor of no more than the change in the National Consumer Price Index – Urban as published by the United States Department of Labor for the calendar year immediately preceding budget adoption, plus real estate taxes calculated by applying the prior year real estate tax rate to the net increase in new construction. “Net increase in new construction” is defined as” the total dollar value of building permits less total dollar value of demolition permits issued for the period of April 1 – March 31 preceding budget adoption.
“V. Total Expenditures. Total expenditures for any given budget year shall not exceed the amount of funds reasonably calculated to be derived by the tax rate established herein, increased by the other revenues generated by the municipality [emphasis added].”
The amendment has enough signatures to appear on the ballot, and by law needed to be reviewed by 3 state agencies: the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the Department of Revenue. All signed a letter that stated that they “do not object to the proposed amendment to the existing charter.”
In other words, the ballot group that put the amendment up for referendum has dotted its I's and crossed its T's, and yet the City Solicitor has saw fit to challenge the amendment in court because he ostensibly believes that Concord has to spend a minimum amount of funds.
Never mind that the amendment allows the caps to be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the City Council.
Really, the city just does not want to abide by tax and spending caps—because they want to increase taxes and spending far beyond the rate of inflation—and are trying to get the amendment overturned on a contrivance rather than campaign against it in open.
The real issue though is that the people do indeed have a fundamental right, as Mr. Biundo has suggested, to limit their government. And that includes limiting the rate of the growth of government.
Robert Romano is the Editor of ALG News Bureau.