Editorial: Another way to help fund education

Published: 4/14/2019 12:05:17 AM

Last week’s House vote on a state budget that includes more money for public education was overdue. It’s also, given that the funding solution hinges on the imposition of a
5 percent tax on capital gains, guaranteed to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

There is, however, another potential funding source, one in keeping with New Hampshire tradition and fiscal policy. But more about that later.

New Hampshire is last in the nation in state aid to public education. The battle by communities and school districts to force the state to meet its obligation to ensure equality of educational opportunity started exactly a century ago. It has taken many forms since 1919, including a 1985 attempt to address inequities with a new funding formula, and the landmark Claremont lawsuits of the early 1990s.

As last week’s House vote to direct an additional $160 million to public education demonstrated, the issue remains unsettled.

The fundamental problem is this. The state pays $3,606.06 per pupil, with additional funding for certain classes of students. The amount has been largely unchanged since it was first calculated two decades ago. Lawmakers claim that’s the cost of providing an adequate education. Meanwhile, the average per-pupil spending for students in New Hampshire’s public schools is roughly $16,000 per year. The difference is made up with local property taxes, taxes that approach confiscatory levels in some property-poor communities.

The school funding crisis has spread beyond the property-poor communities of Franklin, Allenstown, Claremont, Pittsfield and Milan that sued the state in 1993. Berlin, Winchester, Antrim and the state’s fourth largest community, Derry, also have high property taxes yet struggle to provide their students educational basics let alone frills.

Insufficient state funding imposes an inequitable burden on taxpayers and a hardship on their students that the state Supreme Court long ago deemed unconstitutional. One school district has gone to court over school funding. More are certain to follow. A lasting resolution requires more money than the state has to date been willing to raise.

House Bill 709, sponsored by Hopkinton Reps. Mel Myler and David Luneau, calls for increasing education funding by $160 million while temporarily targeting most of the aid to the neediest school districts. Meanwhile, a commission would be created to recalculate the appropriate per-pupil adequacy amount.

Funding would come from the aforementioned tax on capital gains, the imposition of which would violate the Republican pledge to oppose any new or increased sales or income tax. Which brings us to the proposal New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to institute to rebuild his city’s infrastructure and provide affordable housing: a tax on second homes.

New Hampshire lawmakers should consider doing the same thing. The school funding problem, and a host of others, can’t be solved without adjusting the way the state raises revenue.

A property tax on second homes would be an extension of the existing statewide property tax. It would raise a considerable sum, even if, to prevent the taxation of modest camps and cottages, it came with, say, a $150,000 exemption.

The tax is a twist on the so-called Hager-Below income tax bill, which passed the House and Senate in 1999, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. That bill included a $250,000 exemption from local property taxes on primary, but not secondary, residences. A second home tax would target a distinct class of property owned by residents and nonresidents alike.

Most of all, it would be in keeping with the Granite State tradition of raising as much money as possible from non-residents.




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