CACR 12 is about money, Opinion by Rep. Philip Munk, Fosters, 5/9/12

posted May 9, 2012, 4:25 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 9, 2012, 3:10 PM ]
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DNHPE Comment: This is interesting.  Rep. Munk is a first term Republican from Somersworth, strongly Democratic turf.  He get's an "F" on the DNHPE scorecard  - he's made strongly anti-education votes for HB 542HB 340HB 219 and HB 1713 for instance, but also voted against the voucher bill.   But he's been the Somersworth city manager and active in city and state business for years.  He supports CACR 12 and thinks the alternative is the rebirth of donor towns (we very much disagree), but he frames the debate in a much more thoughtful way than House leadership and other CACR 12 supporters.  (Compare it, for instance, to the two offerings by Charlie Arlinghaus and Ovide Lamontagne in the Union Leader on the same day.) Definitely worth a read:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

If the Legislature and Governor pass CACR 12, and I hope we do, it will allow New Hampshire voters a clear opportunity to decide who should have the responsibility for funding primary and secondary education in our state.

Make no mistake, the issue here is about who will raise the money — state or local government — for schools and this issue can only be resolved by the voters. Their decision will have a profound impact on the tax structure of New Hampshire.

Until the first Claremont decision a decade ago, school funding was a local obligation. State law dictated most of the important educational activities but state government had no particular responsibility to pay for schools.

How did we get here?

In its decision, the N.H. Supreme Court ruled that the N.H. Constitution puts financial responsibility as well as the regulatory authority for education on the state as a whole rather than local governments. This is a burden that New Hampshire's state level tax structure is not well equipped to handle having, basically, only the state property tax and business taxes to work with.

The response to Claremont at the state level has evolved to where the per pupil cost of providing an "adequate education" is biennially calculated and that amount is remitted to local school districts. The bulk of that money comes from the statewide property tax and taxes on businesses.

The first problem with the "adequate education" approach as presently implemented is that it only amounts one-half to one-third (depending on the particular school district) of what we spend on education in this state. While it can be argued that some school activities have little bearing on basic educational needs, there is plainly not that level of fluff. As the law stands now it is highly likely that the level of support will be challenged requiring even higher state payments.

The other problem is that there is a disconnection between ability to pay (property tax fundamentally being a tax on wealth) and need. If we are to uniformly raise tax revenue and uniformly distribute it on some per pupil basis, there will inevitably be communities that pay more into the system per pupil than they receive — the "donor town" dilemma.

What are our choices?

One choice is to continue down our present path. We will likely have to increase the "adequate education" stipend to some reasonable amount and find the money at the state level. There are ways to obtain the money and they do not need to involve broad-based sales or income taxes. The state property tax can raise the money handily but it will be a larger tax than it is now. The balance between business and non-business taxes and the virtues or failings of other broad-based taxes is not relevant here.

Staying the present course means accepting "donor" and "receiver" towns. The present system also allows targeting aid to needy communities. Targeted aid is a non-issue which is really a political unwillingness to make painful choices.

Another choice is to nullify the Claremont decision making it clear that the primary responsibility for funding local education is at the local level which comes down to the local property tax as opposed to a state property tax (or some other statewide tax). This would allow the state to provide supplemental aid is chooses and allows education to compete with other state needs for state-level resources.

So what is CACR 12?

CACR 12, if it gets to the November ballot, puts the choice squarely to the voters. Personally, I had hoped the wording of the resolution would have even more explicitly stated the issue but it is clear enough. There will be exhaustive debate on the subject before the election in any case.

The vote on CACR 12 will be a defining event in the history of New Hampshire. It is vitally important that we, the voters, end the waffling and clearly express the direction in which the state is to go. That can best be done by putting CACR 12 on the ballot.

Voting on CACR 12 will not be voting on a free lunch. One way or another, we will pay for education as we always have. The question is how shall we do it.

Philip L. Munck
State Representative,
Somersworth and Rollinsford
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