New Media Militia

The Merrimack Town council sent Mike Malzone’s motion to put a spending cap charter amendment on the ballot down in flames. With a vote of 6 to 1 against, with only Councilor Malzone in favor, the councilors made it known that they were uncomfortable with the cap, and were not certain it would be any better than what amounted in their opinion to a town that had already demonstrated responsible spending habits.

The course of the debate was predictable. What good would it do for the council to embrace a cap when the School board and school budget could blow the entire project out of the water? There were comments that the cap was not adequately tested and some general concern over how the board might look every time they needed to execute the majority rule to override the cap for emergency spending measures.

So if the town is so responsible what risk is there in a spending cap tied to cost of living increases? I don’t recall anyone asking that question, not even me. Does the town need to spend more money each year than inflation requires and if so why? Again, no one asked that, not even me. (I have an excuse–I’m new to this.)

The second most significant event was that there was no request for public comment prior to the vote, and when I tried to request an opportunity to speak as the vote was completed I was denied. Apparently the issue was not so important that the chairman might remember to follow procedure before voting. Or maybe that’s just one of those procedures only the school board has to follow. (I told you I was new to this, how would I know?)

I did get to speak at the end of the meeting, when public comments can be submitted for the record. I made a point to remind them that they did not request public comments before the vote on the spending cap, and that I thought that was a problem. I explained that there is an adequate history of how spending caps affect towns and cities in New Hampshire. That none of the towns including Franklin, Derry, Dover, Laconia or Nashua—several of whom have had caps for years—have suffered from any of the problems that they suggested as reasons to vote against putting it on the ballot. And most importantly, that every level of government has an obligation to control it’s spending, and to favor policies to make sure that spending does not exceed the ability of the tax payers to fund it.

At least that’s what it was supposed to sound like. My voice was a bit hoarse. It’ll sound horrible on cable access, I can’t wait.

After the meeting a few folks introduced themselves. One asked me to run for office—any office—in April. I was flattered but that’s not likley to happen anytime soon. Another wanted to know what services I would cut if the cap went into place. My response was was simple. I do not believe the spending cap would require us to cut any services—and basically, that people more qualified than me knew that. It’s not about cutting, its about staunching the bleeding; the council should not feel that they are entitled to spend simply becasue it occurs to them to do so. A cap sets ground rules, and demands commitment when real needs arise.

In hindsight there are plenty of things I should have said, but none of them would have changed the vote. For now, we have several hundred signatures to collect and very little time to do it.