Publisher's Note: Tax growth
By Jody Reese
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that continues to grow. This has helped push up home values and grow businesses. Most would agree this has been a positive development.
Some have opposed it, arguing that it has placed a lot of strain on our schools and other public resources — and thus the property tax rate. While any increase in the tax rate hurts, the alternative would be much worse. In areas of the state that haven’t grown, such as some western towns along the Vermont border, tax rates have soared because people who can move do, looking for opportunity elsewhere.
This idea that growth — in Manchester or Nashua — for example creates higher taxes is bogus but continues to find followers. I understand that growth is change and change is scary to some people, but without growth this region would implode into itself. Property values would sink even faster, young people would move elsewhere at a faster pace and jobs would be much harder to come by. I can’t imagine many people want a southern New Hampshire like that.
The goal of our elected officials should be to find balance between the public needs of people and the ability of many of us to pay for those services.
Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta is the most visible example of this dilemma. He was elected twice on the pledge to lower taxes. Last year he delivered, but without major cuts he won’t be able to do it again. The basic problem is that the costs of city services continue to rise — without even increasing them. Gas has gotten more expensive, as have health insurance and pensions. Add to that the costs of a growing city, including a sizable foreign-born population in city schools, and you’re looking at double-digit increases in the property tax rate. Given that, how can you realistically cut taxes?
You can’t in a sustainable way. Dipping into the rainy-day fund will work here and there, but over time those costs will catch up. That’s why it’s important to have an honest discussion with tax payers about their tax rates and the cost of running a local government. The more open the process is and the less grandstanding on easy rhetoric, like tax cuts, the more of a sensible approach city government can take. This goes for other growing towns, such as Merrimack and Nashua — both of which have seen these same issues in recent elections.
This doesn’t mean that we should open the floodgates of taxes and approve all spending. These are hard times and will require hard choices that may include reduction in city services, but even a reduction in spending won’t likely result in a reduction of taxes.
I realize that the slogan “Trust me to keep your taxes as reasonable as possible” doesn’t have the same ring as “I’ll give you a tax cut.” But then again, life doesn’t come in slogans.
Southern New Hampshire’s growth should keep this region from a deep recession. If the price for that is an increase in taxes that is about the level of inflation, our politicians should be thrilled with that — as should we voters.