Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tax cap update ... debunking the Sununu turnout theory?

In the wake of the political shift to the center/left and modest gains by Democrats across our state, it is important to look at how the tax cap fared in those cities that were bold enough to allow it on the ballot. The Union Leader has a story here from Thursday: ["Tax cap: Rochester, yes; Somersworth, no"]. One big win, one big loss.

Now granted, it was a big Democratic year and very high turnout in most places. While it wasn't the tsunami of '06, it was a solid repudiation of the current Republican Party and some of the questionable activities and decisions of its elected members. What is interesting here though is that the results of these two cities seem to debunk two theories forwarded by anti-tax cappers and Democrats: 1) That the tax cap was all about building turnout momentum for incumbent Sen. John Sununu this cycle, and 2) That liberals and moderates would not vote to limit their property taxes to a reasonable amount - the rate of inflation - because it could result in cuts in municipal services.

The stronger of the two cases can be made in Rochester. With about 80 percent turnout, voters overwhelmingly approved the tax cap by more than 5,500 votes. But then, they decided to vote for Jeanne Shaheen over Sununu by almost 1,700 votes [7,808 to 6,117]. Over in Somersworth, the dynamic was slightly different: The tax cap lost by 832 votes but Sununu lost by nearly 1,400 votes, with 65 percent turnout. If the theory about the tax cap being all about boosting Sununu's numbers was correct, his numbers should have been closer to the tax cap numbers. But the tax ballot initiative in both cities did absolutely nothing to assist Sununu in any way, shape or form. This could easily lead to a questioning of the theory altogether.

One might also question the assumption that liberals and moderates voted for the tax cap, especially when looking at the Somersworth numbers. However, it doesn't seem to be the case in Rochester.

In July 2008, the Supervisor of Checklists in Rochester issued a report to the city council there on voter registration. It broke down this way: Total voters: 17,771; Democrats: 6,297 [35 percent]; Undeclared: 5,991 [34 percent]; Republicans: 5,483 [31 percent]. There were probably voters who registered the day of the election but we don't know the exact numbers or if they would change this dynamic [in Somersworth, 884 people registered the day of, or almost 16 percent of the total votes cast, a shockingly high number]. Rochester, with an almost three-way split of constituencies, voted for a tax cap by more than a two-to-one margin. While we don't know the exact number of each side that voted - that would take deeper analysis and a public records request to look at all the ballots - it is clear that there was crossover, with liberals and moderates voting for the tax cap.

In Somersworth, the turnout was lower, with 7 percent of voters not casting ballots for the tax cap at all [Huh?]. Admittedly, a Google search of voter registration breakdown of the city yielded no tangible results [does anyone know where I can find them without bugging the clerk?]. You really need to see those numbers to get a better idea of whether the theory of crossover works here. However, when compared to votes cast in the other races, you can see some minor crossover. Obama and Nader received almost 3,400 votes combined in Somersworth; Gov. Lynch received almost 4,100 votes; Shaheen received almost 3,300 votes; and Carol Shea Porter received almost 3,300 votes. Yet only 2,945 people voted against the tax cap. So, hundreds of people casting votes for Democrats [or Nader] did not vote against the tax cap.
McCain and the conservative indie candidates received 2,072 votes; Republican Joe Kenney and Libertarian Susan Newell received 1,183 votes in the governor's race; Sununu and Libertarian Ken Blevens received 2,046 votes; Jeb Bradley and Robert Kingsbury received a combined 1,976 votes for Congress. The Yes side of the tax cap there received 2,113 votes. So, some Yes voters cast votes for Democrats. These numbers are much closer in line to the theory that conservative turnout assisted the Yes side of the tax cap. But with a full 7 percent of voters not even casting a ballot and a decent amount of difference between the No votes and Democratic candidates, one can safely speculate that liberals and moderates voted for the tax cap in Somersworth.

So what does the future hold for Concord as far as the tax cap? No one really knows but you can make some guesses.
The initiative should be on the 2009 city ballot. And it will actually have a better chance of passing than it ever would have had in 2008, considering the massive turnout for Democrats in the city. In holding the referendum, and thwarting the will of the people who signed the petition to get it on the ballot, the city council seems to have made a huge blunder.
Since 2009 is not a federal election, the turnout will be much lower - 13 to 17 percent vs. the 76 percent 2008 turnout. Essentially, it means that tax cap folks will only have to garner one vote over 2,000 to 2,750, about the middle of a usually 4,000 to 5,500 municipal election turnout, in order to win. Compare this to the 11,000-plus-1 vote they would have needed in 2008. McCain and Libertarians Barr and Phillies didn't receive 7,700 votes; Kenny and Newell didn't break 3,300; Sununu and Blevens barely broke 8,300; Horn and Lapointe barely broke 7,200 ... in other words, the tax cap probably would have failed in 2008. Some will make the case that since it passed in Rochester in 2008, it could have passed here. But Concord is a much more liberal city.

The argument over the tax cap will get heated. A great deal of misinformation will be floated - or, at the very least, an overstatement of the "cuts" - in an effort to not limit property tax increases to the rate of inflation. However, it is in the best interest of renters, working class families, and others struggling to make ends meet in Concord, especially in light of the current economic conditions, as well as much needed frugality on the city level, to give the tax cap consideration.


Anonymous said...

These are my comments about the City Council "Huge Blunder" regarding the TAX CAP.
I thought there were some informational gaps about the results that would happen if passed. The Cap did not include the School or County and they make up over 66% of the property tax that we pay. So, if the CPI is at 3% and their rate ncrease is at 6% does the city have to cut to reach the target? AN interesting point is that the School and County receive the exact amount they budget; the City collects the money. If the collections decrease due to non payment the City takes the hit.
I have no problem of having the TAX CAP on a ballot and like Counclior Dick Lemieux, feel that it would be proper to have it during the elections of the City Council members next year.
Looking forward to the debate so more information is given.

Thanks for posting this important topic.

Mark Coen

Tony said...

Councilor Coen: Thank you for reading and commenting.

After watching the council's hearing about the matter though, it sure seemed like the purpose of shelving it was to keep it from succeeding - not to allow for more information to get out there about the tax cap. It seems pretty clear and simple to me and most other folks.

Did you notice that not a single one of you asked any of the people who testified against the tax cap a single question but then grilled every single person who spoke for the tax cap? That was not lost on me or anyone else. In fact, I know of at least two people who went to the hearing and was considering speaking in favor of the proposal but changed their mind after seeing the behavior of your colleagues.

While I could be wrong, a few of us sensed an intimidation factor there that was really uncalled for. I mean, you guys didn't even try to hide it by asking some of the anti-tax cap people a random question, just to throw things off. In addition, the tax cap not being implemented on the county and school level have not bearing on the question at all. I didn't run the petition drive. And I don't know why the people who did chose not to include the county and schools. But controlling one sector has nothing to do with controlling the others, and vice versa. It's a red herring, don'tcha think?