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Budgets by default: Fixing a flaw in official balloting

October 19. 2017 12:51AM

When the New Hampshire Legislature gave towns the option of voting on local warrant articles through a ballot, rather than at Town Meeting, the premise was to give more voters a voice in how their towns spent their money.

But during the past two decades, big spenders on local select and school boards have figured out a way to get higher spending passed, no matter what the voters think.

In official ballot towns, if the recommended budget fails, the town adopts a default budget that is supposed to maintain spending levels from the previous years, not including any one-time spending. But by fiddling with what’s in the default budget, budget writers can craft an alternative that spends almost as much as their recommendation, and sometimes more.

Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, introduced HB 182, which would let voters turn down the default budget as well, which would send the budget process to a special town meeting.

The House Municipal Affairs Committee is recommending the House kill HB 182, but Chairman James Belanger wants Ammon to come back with another bill in January to address the problem.

Local officials need to be accountable when they sneak new spending into the default budget. Taxpayers currently lack any legal recourse, since the New Hampshire Supreme Court won’t recognize their standing to sue.

The Legislature should put some teeth in the default budget process.

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