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Queen City’s question 1 is not so simple

DESPITE WHAT former New Hampshire Democrat Party chair and tax and spending cap opponent Kathy Sullivan penned recently, nothing about the proposed charter amendment is simple. I’d like to think that Kathy wasn’t purposefully being misleading.

First, Manchester currently has the ability to change the City Charter at any election without state Legislature approval. Aldermen can place any amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on a change or not. Or the people can petition to require something be placed on the ballot, as taxpayers were forced to do in 2008 to be allowed to vote on whether or not they wanted the aldermen to limit spending to no more than the rate of inflation under the tax and spending caps. Kathy would have you believe that in order to make changes pertaining to our schools in the City Charter, we need the approval of the Legislature and need to lobby legislators from all over the state. This is not true. The voters have the ability to amend the charter now.

Second, and more egregious, Kathy claims the proposed amendment is a simple change. A “simple: change to our City Charter relating to schools might be to amend Section 4.02 to eliminate the requirement that the mayor shall be the chairman of the committee. Whether you or I agree is irrelevant — the proposed change would be simple.

Alas, that is not what is being proposed. It is not a simple amendment. At all. The “simple” language that is being proposed is: CHARTER REVIEW COMMITTEE SECTION 8.03 PERIODIC REVIEW (a) Not less than once every ten (10) years the board of mayor and aldermen shall cause the question of charter revision to be considered by the voters under the provision of state law. Except as set forth below, nothing in this provision shall limit the availability of the charter amendment process provided by law.

(b) The local procedures used for amendment, revision, or replacement of the charter shall comply with the procedural laws of the state pertaining to amendment, revision or replacement of a city charter as set forth in RSA 49-B, and no legislative approval shall be required to amend, revise or replace those aspects of the charter pertaining to the school district provided that the proposed charter amendment, revision or replacement is consistent with the general laws of the state regarding school districts and shall not divest the district of the powers and duties afforded school districts under state law.

Section 8.03(b) 100% new language. Why do we need or want this? In a nutshell, this is about making it easier to amend our city charter (likely in next year’s municipal election) and change the actual structure of our government and ultimately allow the School Board their own taxing authority, taxing authority that conveniently would be outside of the tax and spending caps. Taxpayers would get taxed twice: once by the city for municipal, with increases limited to the rate of inflation by the caps, and a second tax bill from the schools with nothing to slow that growth whatsoever.

Former school committee candidate Jon Dipietro tracks school spending. Over the last 13 years, enrollment has dropped 25% while per-pupil spending has increased 55%. Inflation-adjusted spending is up 36%. This year, enrollment dropped by more than 700 students. Who thinks this massive decline in students will mean school spending will not increase again next year? And the year after that. And every year after that, too.

Lastly, Kathy would like you to believe that the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office was wrong when it rejected the proposed amendment language containing very substantive changes that came from the School Charter Commission. The changes were rejected because State Rep./ Alderman Pat Long’s poorly-written legislation didn’t give the newly formed School Charter Commission the authority to do anything other than proposing a process to change the school charter. While I’m certain the goal of Long’s legislation was to give the School Committee taxing authority, words mean things and his words didn’t legally mean what he thought they did.

Don’t be fooled by the mailers and the signs promoting a yes vote on question one and “Better Manchester.” They’re paid for by an unknown, newly-formed PAC. No one will know where their funding is from as our City Charter allows the PAC to file their report the day before the election. Don’t be fooled that it is about giving the taxpayer or parents more control over the governance of our schools. It won’t. Instead, it opens the first door in the process of raising your property taxes even more. Without the tax and spending caps to curtail school spending increases to the rate of inflation, we all better buckle up and prepare for higher and higher tax bills.

Vote NO on Question 1.

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Tammy Simmons is Chair Emeritus of the Manchester Republican Committee, coordinated the petition for the city’s tax and spending caps, and is a candidate for State Representative in Ward 10.

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