Unlovable: Budget struggle continues as state downshifts costs

Over the past few months, LivableMHT has discussed the shortsightedness and dangers of the budget proposed by Mayor Gatsas, including closing the West Side library and reducing bus service.  Things aren’t looking good as the deadline for the aldermen to produce an alternative budget looms: the Union Leader is reporting that while a majority of aldermen voted for a more sensible budget last night, there weren’t enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto.

The mayor and aldermen are in a tight spot, and neither deserve derision for their efforts to produce a budget that balances increased costs, declining revenue, a loss of state assistance and maintaining vital services.  Certainly, both could do better, but the real blame lies with negligence from Concord.  Despite New Hampshire having one of the lowest unemployment rates, highest median incomes and lowest taxes (not to mention among the most inequitable tax burdens), the current legislature is doing all it can to ensure that services are underfunded and costs downshifted to cities and towns.  This means that Manchester is losing much needed assistance from the state, so while both the budgets proposed by the mayor and aldermen include tax increases, both also cut services and city amenities.

New Hampshire–including the many suburbs that benefit from proximity to Manchester, but do not contribute financially to the city’s public services and amenities–can afford overall higher, but fairer state taxes to support and expand much needed amenities and services.  Not only can the state and suburbs afford a review of New Hampshire’s tax structure; they would actually benefit from the economic development that would result from more responsible public investment and less reliance on local property taxes.  Manchester will be better able to attract and retain young professionals, middle-class families and small businesses with investments in infrastructure, education, streetscapes and so on that will make it compare favorably with other cities in the region.  The same is true for the state as a whole, and towns around Manchester, along with Nashua and Concord, will benefit directly from their proximity to a more vibrant, robust, competitive Manchester and the economic development that is sure to result.

For too long New Hampshire has relied on unsustainably low taxes to attract economic development and new residents.  Meanwhile, cities like Portland and Providence–in states with both sales and income taxes–have been investing more in the sort of services and amenities that make them attractive to new residents and businesses, and it’s been paying off.  New Hampshire doesn’t need and shouldn’t have the highest taxes in the region, but with people looking for more livable, vibrant cities and more reliable services and amenities, it’s clear that having low taxes is not only unsustainable, it isn’t even going to be a convincing argument in promoting Manchester or New Hampshire.

Obviously, tax reform isn’t going to happen until at least after the 2012 elections, but those who want to see Manchester build on its recent growth should be vocally advocating for a more equitable and reliable tax structure suited to the 21st century.  In the meantime, the mayor and aldermen should come up with a budget that preserves the services, amenities and programs to support current residents and attract new economic development.  The aldermen plan to take up the budget again next Tuesday–let them know the services and amenities you want protected.


This post is one in an ongoing LivableMHT series, Livable/Unlovable, that comments on proposals, projects and other topics that are either good (Livable) or bad (Unlovable)  from a livability/urban development viewpoint.

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