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Editorial: Tax credit scheme shouldn’t fool judiciary

The Strafford County Superior Court should heed the request of the eight plaintiffs represented by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State and temporarily prevent the tax credit scheme passed by the last Legislature from being implemented until its constitutionality
can be determined.

The tax credit would effectively allow a government subsidy for schools that teach religion and discriminate based on religion in their hiring practices. It is the pea under shells manipulated by legal sleight of hand. The trick was good enough to fool the five members of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it shouldn’t fool New Hampshire’s judiciary.

New Hampshire’s Constitution explicitly bars taxpayer “support of the schools of any sect or denomination.” Proponents believe they found a way around that ban with a bill passed over former governor John Lynch’s veto. The bill gives businesses an 85 percent credit against their obligation to pay the state’s business profits or business enterprise tax if they donate money to a nonprofit scholarship fund that funnels money to students who attend private secular schools, religious schools or are schooled at home.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, defenders of the scheme contend that their plan moved the pea under a protective shell. Since the money businesses would have paid under the tax never made it into the state’s hands, they argue, it is not public money. They overlook the fact that others have to pay more to offset the loss created by the credit. That loss is compounded when a public school student’s parents use the voucher to send their child to a private school because the school loses state education aid. That means one of two things: school district budget cuts, or higher property taxes.

We believe that the state’s judicial system will ultimately declare the voucher system unconstitutional, but to eliminate the uncertainty facing parents and school districts alike, the Legislature should take the earliest opportunity to repeal the misguided scholarship tax credit law.

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