by Edward Mosca

Here are some questions for the Governor about his constitutional amendment that he would rather not answer.

Governor, your amendment states at the outset that, “In fulfillment of the duty to cherish public schools set forth in the preceding Article, the general court shall define an adequate education, regularly determine the total statewide cost thereof … .” Why does the amendment need to say this if, as the Supreme Court has been telling us, the constitution already says we must define an adequate education and determine its cost?

Governor, your amendment says that, “The general court shall have the authority to distribute the funds in the manner that it determines to best promote an equal opportunity for an adequate education for every child in the public schools, provided that the general court shall distribute some state aid to every school district.” As Bruce Keough has recently pointed out, this language means that “the state's financial obligations could be entirely met through the accounting gimmick called the statewide property tax. Here's how it would work. The state could simply set the statewide property tax rate at a level high enough to raise 50 percent of the cost of a defined adequate education, and then, using its newly established ability to distribute funds as it wishes, the state could return to each community the exact amount of statewide property tax it paid.” If this becomes public knowledge, is it really conceivable that the Mark Fernald/Arnie Arnesen wing of the Democrat Party will vote for your amendment in 2008? And wouldn’t that doom your amendment?

Governor, what is your back-up plan if the voters reject your amendment? Given that you have said that we should “embrace” the Claremont decisions, rejection of your amendment suggests that you would impose whatever state taxes are necessary to pay for the entire cost of an adequate education. The Democrat Party, at your urging, is on the verge of passing a definition that most folks agree costs at least $2 billion. What new taxes would you enact to raise this $2 billion, if your amendment is rejected?

Governor, under your amendment there is no judicial oversight over how the Legislature distributes funding. Why do you think the Legislature cannot be trusted to determine how big the education funding pie should be, but it can be trusted to determine how the pie gets sliced?

Governor, you’ve said that your amendment prevents the State from walking away from its obligation to public education. What about the State’s obligation to public safety? Shouldn’t we also amend the constitution to require the Legislature to “define adequate public safety, regularly determine the total statewide cost thereof, fund, with state monies, not less than fifty percent of the total statewide cost of an adequate education each year, and maintain standards of accountability”?

Governor, you’ve indicated that your amendment allows folks to sue the State if they don’t believe that the Legislature has properly defined an adequate education or correctly determined the cost. Indeed, you seem pretty proud of that. Why do you think that judges, rather than the people’s elected representatives, should have the ultimate say on these matters? And, in the future when you nominate judges, will experience and training in education be something that you look for? Finally, would you consider nominating a teacher or a school superintendent to the Supreme Court? If not, why not?

Governor, I assume you intend to run for reelection in 2008 on the pledge that you will veto an income tax or a sales tax. Please assume that you are reelected but your amendment fails. To keep the pledge, you would have to drastically scale back your definition of an adequate education. Exactly how would you redefine adequacy?

Governor, doesn’t your amendment show that political fence-straddling produces pabulum?