Tax for the sake of taxing

Wednesday March 7th was the Merrimack school district deliberative session.  As a member of the budget committee I sat through hours of deliberations as we went over the budget.  The school board prior to our seeing it scrutinized the figures.  Both the school board and the budget committee felt it was justified that some staff positions be cut.  This was done NOT to save money but because enrollment figures in Merrimack are declining.  From this year to next alone we anticipate over 100 fewer kids.  Based on this information we all felt that what was being put forward was a good solid budget.  Some members wanted more added, some wanted more removed but after views from all sides were heard the budget went forward with 14 positions being cut.

At the deliberative session the teachers and school staff showed up in full force making up the vast majority of the 320 people who showed up (in a town of over 27,000... sad).  They did not like the fact that positions were cut.  In a well planned out maneuver we saw first Stan Heinrich, the chairman of the budget committee stand up and move that the discussion of the budget be moved to first thing since many parents have baby sitters and it is after all the largest ticket item of the night.  This struck me as odd since I had never seen this done before.  Then Dave Nichol walked up to the microphone directly after Stan and laid out the next phase of this plan, he motioned that all 14 positions be added back to the budget.  Over $700,000.  The chairman of the school board and several others mentioned that the positions were not needed since we will have fewer kids.  It would essentially be taxing the town for the sake of taxing them just to have teachers teaching to empty rooms.  The school employees did not care.  Even some of those who stood up supporting the addition said they agree not all the positions were added but they would rather not spend the time debating each position one by one.  After a short period of discussion and a handful of people trying to point out that the positions were no longer justified Stan Whitlock, the husband of the school moderator stood up and motioned that we call the question and ended any further discussion.  That motion was excepted and the question called.  A member of the public called for secrete ballot, which by law required 5 signatures.  Frantically he started around the room looking for people to sign.  Since it was clear he would get his 5 names eventually and it was dragging things out 4 of us on the budget committee quickly signed to get the vote moving.  At this point we were each told to sign the yellow voting card we had which normally we hold up for a vote and have one of the volunteers hand us a ballot after they crossed off our names.  Maybe ten minutes into this process the moderator stood at the microphone again warning those handing out ballots to check both sides of the cards since there were rumors going around that people were signing one side getting their name crossed off then signing the other and getting that crossed off as well.  Right then and there questions came into play about the legality of the vote, not that it mattered since it was nearly 2 to 1 in favor of adding the money, but the questions were ignored.  Since the attendance at the very end of the night was higher then the vote count they discounted any further discussion of a tanted vote.

I’ve already heard those in favor of what happened point to Merrimack’s town meeting last year where $1.4 million was cut from the budget by a group of upset citizens who showed up in force, but this wasn’t nearly the same.  For starters last year those citizens wrote the selectmen and the budget committee asking for cuts, some spoke at the public hearings asking for cuts, letters were written in the local news papers asking for cuts… all went unheard and the budget continue to grow from the year before, new positions were even being added at the time the public called out for cuts.  This year only a small few came to the budget committee and school board asking for higher spending while a larger majority came asking for either holding the line or cutting. 

The other key difference was that last years motion to cut created a choice for the voters.  The default budget and recommended budget started off at nearly the same amount, after the cut of the $1.4 million the voters were left with two drastically different numbers to vote on.  This year the budget started off below the default, the increase put it at nearly the same level as the default, with the default still remaining slightly higher.  Now imagine that, here we have a budget were ALL positions have been added back in, new spending was approved, raises were approved, costs for heating increases etc were all approved and yet it STILL came out less then the default budget.  But I digress, that is a different subject altogether.  The point is, that this year the voters will be left with no choice.  They have a budget with money added by the teachers for positions not needed or a default budget even higher.

Imagine this in the private sector, a company finding that business is down so they seek to cut unneeded positions then the employees turn around and vote to keep those positions even though there isn’t even business to drive them.  In the private sector you’d see the business go belly up.  But not in government.  In government you see towns like Merrimack turn around and join groups like NH Café and sue the state for more money since they’ve raped the local public for just about everything they can.

So I asked the school board if they plan to spend the money above and beyond what the two elected boards approved.  I was told by Greg Robertson Smith, husband of Rosemary Robertson Smith (one of the two members up for re-election) that his wife would follow the will of the voters.  Ok, how then can the voters show they don't want either of the two numbers they are faced with?  Vote yes for the lower of the two and the voters have spoken in favor of the budget... vote no and go with the default and the voters have said they want even MORE spent.  Some choice!

This is clearly why we need to get government out of running our school systems but I doubt very much either the republicans or democrats would have the guts to even approach that idea.  Instead we continue to see towns like Merrimack spend for the sake of spending even when there is no justification for the money to be spend and even when the school board themselves state they don’t even need that much money.  Learn from this folks, don’t sit back and skip deliberative sessions even when you are happy with what your local boards are doing because tax and spenders will and they will stop at nothing to get every last dime they can from your pockets!