MANCHESTER – A group of Manchester residents is taking the city to court in an effort to sink the proposed spending cap.
Members of the group Keep Manchester Moving are asking a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge to deem the cap illegal. The group is also asking the court to block the city from putting the proposal on the November ballot.
“We believe it’s an illegal initiative,” said Zandra Rice Hawkins, a spokesman for the group. “It would cause damage to the city and the taxpayers if it’s passed.”
An official with a rival group, the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, said it “just doesn’t seem right” for the petitioners to take this step so close to the Nov. 4 election. “People have been waiting a year to have their say on this,” the official, Matt Murphy, said.
Murphy, the coalition’s executive director, got his first look at the petition yesterday. He said coalition leaders would have to consult their attorney before deciding what to do about it.
The petition puts the city in an odd position, since the City Solicitor’s Office has already argued in court that the cap is unconstitutional.
City attorney Peter Chiesa said it “remains to be seen” how his office will respond to the petition.
“It’s currently under evaluation,” he said Wednesday.
City officials are waiting for a response to a petition of their own, also in opposition to the cap. That petition asks a superior court judge to reverse his decision derailing the city’s case against the proposal.
A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 30. Rice Hawkins, however, argues voters can’t afford to wait until then to find out if the proposal passes legal muster.
It won’t be long, she said, before the city starts printing up the November ballots. Her group’s petition says the city “must proceed with the printing of ballots for the general election immediately after the September 15, 2009 primary.”
Attorney Bob Backus filed the petition last Thursday on behalf of 11 city residents, all active opponents of the cap, according to Rice Hawkins. The group includes Manchester firefighter Ryan Cashin, McLaughlin Middle School guidance counselor Maxine Mosley, postal worker and union officer David McCloskey and City Democratic Committee Secretary Mike Farley.
“It’s out of a love for this city,” Farley said, explaining his participation in the filing. Farley said he believes a spending cap would take elected officials out of the budget-writing process “and essentially put the city on auto-pilot. I think that’s harmful to the interests of the city.”
The proposed cap has been presented as an obstacle to large-scale tax hikes. It would amend the City Charter to block the aldermen from increasing city spending by more than the national consumer price index. However, aldermen could override the cap with a two-thirds vote.
Members of the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, the group that authored the proposal, have accused the aldermen of trying to block the public from voting on it. Murphy noted the group collected more than 4,000 signatures in order to earn a spot on the ballot.
“It seems, I don’t know, 10 people want to overrule the will of 4,000 people that went through the process and signed the petition to put it on the ballot, which doesn’t seem fair,” Murphy said.