GOP majority in Senate blocks bill to repeal N.H.’s new education tax credit program
New Hampshire’s new education tax credit program is safe, for now.
The Democratic-controlled House voted in February to repeal the program, which was enacted last year by the then-Republican-controlled Legislature. But the Republican majority in the Senate yesterday blocked the bill from going to Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who wants to repeal the program.
The Senate voted along party lines, 13-11, to table the bill.
Any motion at a future Senate session to take the bill up for a final vote would require a majority. Otherwise, the legislation will die on the table when the Senate adjourns in June.
“It is disappointing that a majority of the New Hampshire Senate have decided to stand by the misguided school voucher program,” Hassan said in a statement after the vote.
‘Poor children,’ ‘tax policy’
Under the program, a company can get a credit to
lower their state tax bill by donating to nonprofit organizations. Those organizations then provide scholarships to help families pay tuition at private, religious or out-of-district public schools, or to defray the cost of homeschooling.
The program got under way Jan. 1. More than $134,000 had been donated as of April 10, far below this year’s cap of $4 million, according to the Department of Revenue Administration.
On Feb. 20, the House voted, 188-151, to repeal the program, sending the bill to the Senate for yesterday’s debate.
Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, argued the program will help low-income families.
“This is about helping poor children,” he said. “Killing this bill is giving families that don’t have a lot of money the opportunity to make sure their children get a good education. School choice isn’t about those just with the financial means.”
Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said the nascent program needs time to get going.
“Let’s give this an opportunity to work,” Bradley said. “If it doesn’t work, people will be back, either trying to fix it or repeal it. But we simply do not have enough information at this point to take such a precipitous vote, as this would be, while hundreds of parents are looking for opportunity for their children.”
But Hollis Democratic Sen. Peggy Gilmour described the program as “poor tax policy” that lacks accountability and adds unwanted complexity to the state tax code.
And Sen. David Pierce, an Etna Democrat, said he opposes the program because it directs money to religious education.
“Many people, most people, in this room have probably never been the target or the brunt of religion. I, growing up gay, have been . . . targeted by religion – being singled out in church, being singled out at Sunday school,” Pierce said. “Now, if these families want to send their kids to a church school, if these families want to educate their kids at home and they want to tell them that God hates fags or that interracial couples should not be able to marry, that is perfectly their right to do. But what this bill does is, it requires me to pay them to do it.”
Two Republican senators who voted against the tax credit program last year voted yesterday to table the repeal bill.
Sen. Nancy Stiles of Hampton had previously announced she would oppose the repeal effort, saying there wasn’t enough data to justify pulling the plug so soon.
Sen. Bob Odell of Lempster voted to table the bill but said he doesn’t know how he would have voted on the repeal bill itself. He didn’t rule out voting for the bill if supporters can round up 13 votes for it. (He would be the 12th.)
“We can have further discussions,” Odell said. “If the vote comes along, it can be voted off the table.”
Despite yesterday’s vote, the debate over the tax credit program isn’t over.
The repeal bill could be removed from the table for a vote at a Senate session later this spring.
In addition, the budget passed by the House earlier this month includes a similar provision to repeal the tax credit program. The Senate Finance Committee is working on its version of the budget now.
And a lawsuit was filed this year in Strafford County Superior Court challenging the program as unconstitutional because, opponents said, it violates the separation of church and state. A hearing in that case is scheduled for next Friday.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
email@example.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)