A visit to the APT

Last Wednesday, I attended a meeting of the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers, at which Matt Murphy of the NH Advantage Coalition outlined what would be involved in a spending cap for Portsmouth.

The group was not eager to publicize the process, fearing to stir up opposition before they even decided whether or not to pursue it, but given the Portsmouth Herald story, I guess I can write freely.

One of the biggest challenges before such a cap is that the Portsmouth city government has actually been reasonably behaved. They are pursuing a zero-growth budget for FY 2010, and the increase in FY 2009 was modest, less than the CPI increase to which a tax cap would have held them. So many voters may ask why a spending cap is necessary, and it may be difficult to get petition collectors fired up.

One can make the case that this is the right time for a spending cap; the city will certainly come back to the residents when the economy is looking better and ask for money for all the projects that were deferred during the time of austerity, and a spending cap would prevent that.

I did not sense a strong will to pursue the project now; a decision will be made at the next meeting, on Wednesday 4 February.

If the spending cap is not pursued, I wonder if energy might be better spent looking for specific waste. I’ve been in San Francisco the past week, which has 1900 uniformed police officers for 750,000 residents (and twice that many people in the city on a weekday). Portsmouth has, I believe, 300 officers for 20,000 residents, about six times as many cops per capita. Do we really need that many? Do they need to spend their time stopping motorists without probable cause, for instance (citing 1% or fewer of those stopped for DUI)? Could the fire department reduce its full-time staff, using a combination of volunteers and part-time staff to make up the difference, especially during peak seasons? I don’t know the answer to these stories, but they seem worth exploring.

The technical details of the proposed cap were also interesting, at least to me. The cap requires the budget planners to essentially assume a growth in revenue no more than the change in the consumer price index. The budget must then be in accordance with those projections. The city could, I suppose, set a wildly high tax rate anyway, but being unable to spend the resulting money, what politician would make that decision? There is also an override clause for emergency cases, which I do wonder if Portsmouth is monolithic enough to exercise (requiring a two-thirds vote as it does).

Stay tuned for more, and as always, if you’re in Portsmouth, drop a line and get involved.

Obama’s Smooth Talk Can’t Hide Spending, Debt

Another great letter to the editor by a member of New Hampshire Seacoast Liberty, Dan Davis.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

One of President Obama’s stated goals is the creation of 3 million to 4 million jobs, 80 percent of which are expected to magically appear in the private sector. The resulting 20 percent, or a minimum of 600,000 jobs, will be added to an already ineffectual and bloated government.

A quiet week

Between the City Council meeting a week ago Monday and the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers meeting tomorrow, there hasn’t been much to do. (Except NHLA bill review… which I’ll do soon! I promise!)

However, since today (when I started composing this) was inauguration day, I’ll share some of my Hope for Change. I don’t have much of it…

None of us expected a Democratic president to be good. I had hoped, however, that while continuing the damage to the economy, the Obama administration might roll back some of the Bush era’s foreign adventures and civil liberties abuses. The nominations of Hillary Clinton to State, Timothy Geithner to Treasury, Robert Gates to Defense, and Eric Holder to Justice are not promising. Clinton’s a hawk and Gates represents the status quo. Geithner will continue Paulson’s bailout policies, while being a hypocrite on taxes; and while I am not surprised that Holder is an enemy of the Second Amendment, I am disappointed that he is also an enemy of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, at least when narcotics are involved. At least he knows torture when he sees it…

I have my fingers crossed that the next four years will at least be bad in different ways from the last eight.

1 Year Later…

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. – Thomas Paine: The American Crisis, No. 4, 1777

In January 2008, a group of liberty lovers from the Seacoast drove to Concord to be trained on the NHLA bill review process.  On the way to the event, I brought up that we should start a group to continue the momentum of the recent presidential primary.  After the training, another individual was there from the seacoast who suggested the same idea; that evening back at my house New Hampshire Seacoast Liberty was started.

Upon the formation of SeaL, we discussed that we did not want a formal organizational structure; people would do as they saw fit and we would support their cause as long as it moved freedom in a positive direction.

During the past twelve months, we have grown from a few to over one hundred members; of which a majority of our members have been active in one fashion or another.  The events have been numerous and we have had so many great accomplishments.  While I will not list all of our accomplishments, I would be remissed not to list a few:

As the new year dawns and SeaL celebrates it’s first anniversary the discussion of goals naturally arises.  Our goal is simple and will remain to be so: spreading liberty and freedom, one community at a time.  The tactics to achieve this are up to each individual and are implemented through, a purely voluntary effort.  If you want to distribute copies of Freedom to Fasicm on April 15 by your local Post Office, run for office, get involved in FIJA, etc. then simply execute your task and our mission will be achieved.  It’s that simple.

I wish to thank everyone that has been supportive to the cause of advancing liberty, not only here in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, but across the state, country and world.  Thank you.

Maybe I did well and maybe I led the battle but nobody ever said we were going to win this thing at any point in time. Eternal vigilance is required and there have to be people who step up to the plate, who believe in liberty, and who are willing to fight for it. – Milton Friedman

One week of Portsmouth politics

How did that first week go?

My first goal was to get to the City Council meeting on Wednesday the 7th; however, a friend visiting from the left coast gave me a cold and I didn’t make it. I did, however, make contact with the Association of Portsmouth Taxpayers, and will be at their meeting on Wednesday the 21st. Among the items to discuss is a tax cap as has been proposed in other NH cities.

I also sat through the entire City Council meeting yesterday, the 12th. In fact, I was the only one who did. Literally; at the end of the meeting, there were 9 Council members, the City Attorney, the City Manager, the Deputy City Clerk, and me in the room. The press was gone; the city staff who had made presentations were gone; the public who had come to comment, all gone. I wondered why I was getting eye contact and odd expressions from the Councilors; I was in the front of the audience and didn’t realize there was no one else left! I guess anyone else who just wants to watch a meeting watches it on public access.

I highly recommend the experience, though. Aside from actual votes, one can learn a lot from the personalities and comportment of the members; who is grandstanding, who is interested in the issues, who wants government to fix problems and who is reluctant for the City to take a step.

The most interesting item at the meeting, and the one that drew the most members of the public, was a proposed declaration preliminary to an eminent domain action. The City badly needs a new sewer line to alleviate the flooding at Bartlett and Islington. The City Engineer made a very good case that the best and least disruptive way to do this is to go under the parking lot of Papa Wheelie’s bike shop. This involves the city acquiring a small piece of land permanently, temporarily acquiring a larger parcel to do the work, and rendering the business’s parking lot unusable for a month or more. The business owner and his attorney were present; the issue of contention is not the land itself, but compensation (or lack thereof) for the business disruption.

“Eminent domain” has become a dirty phrase the last few years, especially among libertarians, and deservedly so. This was an interesting litmus test, given that there is a compelling public benefit to the action (as opposed to turning the land over to a mall developer) and the property owner isn’t inherently opposed to the project. I was particularly impressed with Councilor Kennedy on this issue; the business owner’s attorney suggested the city had not dealt in good faith, and unable to get a clear narrative of the negotiations from the City Attorney, Kennedy was the sole vote of No on the resolution. Councilor Smith also expressed a reluctance to use the sledgehammer of eminent domain, but voted in favor.

(It is worth noting that the vote was not to take the property. It was a finding of the necessity of the project, which gives the City Manager authority to negotiate with the owner, starts an appraisal process, and is a prerequisite for any eminent domain action. So it was starting down this path, but it should be clear that the Yes votes were not necessarily horrible.)

I also found it interesting that Councilor Spear expressed a concern with selective property tax exemptions. This was in the course of discussion over a minor inflation adjustment to the amount of the deductions.

I was not very impressed with Councilor Dwyer’s comportment at the meeting or at the end of the working meeting preceding it, of which I caught the tail end. She seems very interested in having the City government fix all of the problems for its residents and curing all its social ills; in short, the epitome of the “well-intentioned yet muddleheaded big government” I referred to last week.

So if you’re in Portsmouth and you want to help advance liberty here, drop me a line or post a comment. NH Liberty Alliance bill reviews, the taxpayers association, and ongoing city government monitoring are all in play. Get involved!

Put tax dollars back in the private sector

Another great letter to the editor by a member of New Hampshire Seacoast Liberty, Suzanne Hudson.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

If government can function without these 40 people in its employ now, one must question why they came to be employed in the first place. And if it can function without these 40 on a county level, imagine how many tens of thousands we could manage to exist without across the board.

New Year’s Resolutions

I moved to Portsmouth with the Free State Project First 1000 this past July. The whole point of the Free State Project is for activists to move, not just warm bodies. Still, I gave myself the rest of 2008 to settle in and orient myself. Now that’s done, and I’m gearing up for the New Year.

The first step is that I intend to post once a week here, usually on Tuesdays. The focus will be on local Portsmouth politics. That should keep the pressure on me to actually have done something any given week.

At the state level, the first event is the NHLA bill review. I’ve contacted SeaL members who claim to be in Portsmouth to organize a local review session. If you are interested, please comment here or otherwise contact me.

Locally, I will start by observing city council meetings. As a lifelong New Englander, I know that the worst thing one can do is show up as a newcomer and start yakking away. I will spend at least a few months figuring out what’s what and who’s who. A calendar of local official meetings is on the City’s Web site.

If any Portsmouth residents are interested in joining me in this quest, in trying to keep Portsmouth a vibrant, entertaining city, but without the well-intentioned yet muddleheaded big government that so often accompanies that, please comment here or otherwise contact me.