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November 19. 2013 7:11PM

Forced restraint: Manchester's tax cap works

Manchester's tax rate has increased by 2.11 percent this year. Last year the increase was just 1 percent. The two rate hikes have something important in common. Both were just below the city's tax and spending cap.

Remember the bad old days? A decade ago Manchester's tax rates were rising by high single or low double digits. An 8 percent rate hike was not unusual. Since the tax and spending cap went into effect in 2011, there has not been a tax hike of even 2.5 percent.

The cap is doing exactly what voters intended it to do: restrain the aldermen. Given how the city has voted since 2005, it seems pretty clear that this was the goal. That was the year Frank Guinta defeated Bob Baines, who responded to Guinta's anti-tax message by saying people didn't mind paying higher taxes.

Since then, Manchester voters have approved the cap — twice — and have consistently elected mayors who promised to keep taxes in check. Yet at the same time voters just as consistently have elected an overwhelming majority of aldermen who favor steady increases in taxes and spending. Maybe voters in Manchester, as in the rest of the country, want both high-quality services and low taxes.

The cap can be seen as a way of trying to provide both of those ideal outcomes. It forces elected officials to keep taxes and spending low, which in turn forces them to budget and govern more creatively. That was its intended purpose, and voters appear to be using it that way.


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