June 8, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: Guinta’s political game
By Jody Reese

Newly elected Mayor Frank Guinta is playing a game of property-tax chicken with the aldermen. It’s a game in which the only certain losers are Manchester residents.

Guinta first announced that his budget would decrease the city’s tax rate by 1.5 percent, even though he and his staff knew that wouldn’t be the case.

No indeed—as anyone who’s reviewed his proposed budget can see, it fails to account for items that must by necessity be included in figuring the city’s tax rate next fall.

When that happens, the tax rate will go up, guaranteed, even under Guinta’s “tax cut” budget. Guinta knows that. But for political purposes, he also knows that he doesn’t need his fake tax cut to stick.

Why? Because Guinta’s proposed “tax cut” budget is by design crafted not to cut taxes, but instead to position him as the noble defender and champion of the city’s beleaguered taxpayers, and thus to force aldermen to look like a bunch of irresponsible tax-happy spendthrifts.

To get the aldermen to take the bait, Guinta put through cuts in his budget that he knew the aldermen couldn’t stomach, such as cuts to fire, police, tax collector’s office, schools and, of course, Manchester Community Television.

Now all Guinta has to do is sit back and wait for the aldermen to do the sane thing and restore funding for things, such as electricity to the library. Guinta’s plan is really quite brilliant. He can’t lose.

If the aldermen add in money to make sure city government can continue to operate at the bare minimum, then Guinta gets to blame the tax increase on them. Even though the tax rate must rise even under Guinta’s “tax cut” budget, his plan allows him to escape the blame.

See? He tried to enact a tax cut, but those batty out-of-touch aldermen just wouldn’t let him.

But while Guinta can’t lose, the rest of us certainly can. While Guinta focuses on building his résumé as an alleged tax-cutter, the rest of us face stagnation at City Hall, and that’s unfortunate.

Manchester has made big strides since the 1990s, and a large reason for that is political leadership from city hall. Now the forward momentum of Ray Wieczorek (himself no mean tax-cutter) and Bob Baines is in danger of being lost, as Guinta is failing to articulate or even show any signs of buying into the idea that this is a great city on the move.

Instead, it’s cut, cut, cut, and let others take the blame. Instead of doing his best to capitalize on the achievements of his recent predecessors and bring Manchester to the next level, it’s all about whining about how taxes are too high, when in fact Manchester and New Hampshire have the lowest per capita state and local tax burden in the nation.

Whether or not Guinta’s games will help him build his résumé is hard to say. Seen in this light, though, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’re a cynical ploy to use his office for image-building rather than promoting what’s best for Manchester’s long-term future.

But with so much at stake, let’s hope Guinta realizes that being the chief executive of the state’s largest city is about more than playing political games for personal advancement.


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