Divisive testimony on Nashua spending cap bill

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May 17—CONCORD — Nashua Mayor James Donchess urged a House committee Monday to kill legislation aimed at putting more teeth into the city's spending cap.

State Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, said he proposed the bill (SB 52) in response to a state Supreme Court decision that potentially put the city's spending cap in legal jeopardy.

"The city would be able to enforce its original charter by making these two corrections," Avard told the House Municipal and County Government Committee.

"They voted for this by a referendum and were outraged that it has not been enforced as of late."

Nashua's spending cap was first adopted in 1993.

Avard said the Legislature adopted a state law in 2011 affecting all spending cap communities, leading to the high court's ruling.

Former Nashua Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said the bill makes clear it would take a super-majority vote of at least two-thirds support on the 15-person Nashua Board of Aldermen to exceed Nashua's spending cap.

Donchess denied the public was upset about steps Nashua's political leaders have taken in the past to deal with spending priorities.

"The people are not outraged, whatever the senator suggested," Donchess said. "Those who have run based on the platform you have heard, including Mr. Teeboom, have run and lost."

Lawmakers should reject this measure, Donchess said.

"Allow the citizens of Nashua to resolve this whole thing; it is a local issue," Donchess said. "The people do not support the efforts that are being made here."

Over the past five years, Donchess said spending has gone up less than 3% annually.

The current budget is going up 2.7% this year due to state government actions.

A reduction in the retirement system's investment returns means the city will have to spend $4.4 million on pension costs, Donchess said.

The city also faces a $2 million cut in state education aid because of declining enrollments in the free and reduced school lunch program.

Donchess said fewer parents filled out enrollment forms during the pandemic because the federal government approved free school lunches for all students.

There is bipartisan support in the Legislature for a state budget amendment that would restore those state aid grants to pre-pandemic levels.

The State Senate approved the bill on a party-line 14-10 vote with all Republicans in support, all Democrats against.

During Monday's House hearing, 24 supported the bill while 36 opposed it.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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