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Entries in Local Control (2)

Saturday
Mar032012

NH Sen. Jeb Bradley - Unfinished Business 

Unfinished Business

Jeb Bradley 3/2/2012

In 2010, New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly chose conservatives to change directions in Concord. No wonder: state spending had increased by 24% from $9.36 billion to $11.5 billion and our fiscally prudent state was facing a prospective budget deficit of $800 million. Further fueling taxpayer misery: nearly 100 taxes or fees had been enacted or raised during those four years including the infamous LLC Tax which was so controversial it was repealed shortly after taking effect.

The newly elected Legislature tackled tough challenges. A budget passed that cut spending by 11% and while difficult cuts were made—they were necessary. Business taxes were reformed (SB-125) insuring state revenue collectors could not access an income tax on small business owners both providing a measure of fairness as well as enhancing job growth. The state’s largest and most costly program, Medicaid, was reformed (SB-147) by moving to a managed care model that when fully implemented will maintain or improve quality and save millions. Lastly, the Legislature after several unsuccessful efforts passed pension reform (SB-3 added to the budget) that will reduce the nearly $5 billion unfunded burden that rests squarely on the backs of taxpayers.

Education funding remains unfinished business.  A formula (SB-183) passed in 2011 ensured towns don’t lose education dollars and prevented return of the dreaded statewide property tax. But this 2011 formula does not resolve the decades old education funding dilemma spawned by the NH Supreme Court’s Claremont related decisions that requires the state to fund every dollar of the cost of an adequate education through equalized grants for every student across the state regardless of need. Sooner -- rather than later -- taxpayers will be confronted with an income tax or sales tax, probably both, to pay the Court ordered costs of education.

Changing or tempering the Court decision can only occur through a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and enacted by voters.  After 14 years of living with the NH Supreme Court’s takeover of education funding, voters may have that opportunity in November 2012 if the Senate’s bipartisan constitutional amendment CACR-12, which has the support of Governor Lynch, is also passed by the House.

What would CACR-12 do and not do?  Why is CACR-12 so vital for NH’s future?

Most importantly, CACR-12 would put state and local elected leaders in charge of education funding decisions as well as providing the criteria for a quality education so necessary for students in an increasingly competitive world.

CACR-12 would give the Legislature the ability to target state education dollars to communities most in need. Since the Claremont decision of 1997, every new funding scheme is greeted with scrutinizing eyes ascertaining how every community fares in the race to garner state dollars.  Many towns with high income levels, a substantial tax base, and few at risk students have received huge state grants because of the court rulings that call for equalized grants regardless of need. At the same time other communities that everyone would agree need assistance due to larger numbers of at risk students, lower property values and income levels have lost funding. Such a system is not rational by any metric…nevertheless court decisions require this formula. CACR-12 would allow the Legislature to target state funding and make those difficult decisions based on need – not formulas.

Could the Legislature walk away from education funding?  NO!  CACR-12 allows targeted education aid but requires the Legislature to mitigate fiscal disparities among communities and educational opportunity among students. Is this a state takeover of education funding should the voters approve CACR-12?  Absolutely not! Before the Supreme Court’s Claremont decision, the Legislature had the authority to target aid and did.

At its heart CACR-12 provides the Legislature with full power and authority to do the job elected officials are supposed to do: make tough choices and set priorities. CACR-12 recognizes there are not unlimited taxpayer resources and puts elected officials not judges in charge of allocating those dollars.

Furthermore CACR-12 restores local control to school boards. The language of CACR-12 provides that the Legislature sets education standards and ensures accountability of those standards. Is this a state takeover of education?   NO! New Hampshire is not constitutionally a ‘Home Rule State’ and since 1963 NH has set minimum education standards, determining minimum classroom size, teacher student ratios etc. CACR-12 does not change the historical dynamic between Concord and NH communities….nor will CACR-12 in anyway impact homeschooling.

Will disgruntled NH residents still be able to petition the Supreme Court if there is dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Legislature regarding education under CACR-12?  Yes the Court will still be involved---but there will no longer be a presumption that every act of the Legislature is unreasonable as has been the case since Claremont.  This raises an extraordinarily high legal hurdle for the state to prove its actions are reasonable. This provision of CACR-12 returns the Court to its traditional role of opining on the constitutionality of laws, rather than the Supreme Court becoming a super unelected Legislature.

Some skeptics are not assuaged.  On the right, some decry any state or court involvement in education policy or its funding. On the left some maintain the State has total responsibility for funding education which should come from an income or sales tax….or both.

However the vast middle of New Hampshire voters is wary of both those outcomes. These voters seek a balance between state and local decision making and believe that the Court’s role is subsidiary to that of elected officials in setting education policy and making funding decisions. Most importantly the vast majority of NH voters recognize the NH Advantage of no income or sales tax has served us well for a long time – most recently in this deep long-lasting recession. Voters realize NH’s tax advantage is as critical to our future as educated students --- and worth fighting for.

After 14 long years…..it’s finally time to let voter’s voices be heard on education funding. The bipartisan CACR-12 represents the best opportunity to do so. 

Saturday
Jan142012

Todd Selig - Land Use Change Tax Program Under Fire

House Bill 1515 proposes major changes to the assessment and use of the Land Use Change Tax (LUCT), and is scheduled for a hearing before the House Municipal and County GovernmentCommittee on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. in LOB Room 301. This bill threatens local control, raises significant concerns on several levels, and should be killed.

First, the bill provides that the failure to pay all property taxes on current use land within 30 days after the date of notice of tax will constitute a change of use, triggeringpayment of the LUCT. This is an extremely harsh penalty that, to our knowledge, municipalities are not seeking. The bill also provides that land will be considered changed in use and subject to the LUCT if the landowner does notnotify the local assessing officials within 30 days that the land has changed from one qualifying use to another. That is unnecessary and extremely harsh.

Second, the bill provides that if any LUCT assessment is not paid within 30 days after the due date, the property shall be deeded to the municipality. Again, this is extremely harsh and is neither in the interest of the property owner nor the municipality. Municipalities generally do not want to acquire land because of unpaid taxes -- they simply want the taxes paid.

The bill repeals the provisions of RSA 79-A:25 that, upon majority vote of the legislative body,allow placement of a portion of any LUCT revenues into the Conservation Fund. This is a tool that many municipalities have used very successfully to fundacquisition of land or conservation easements. It is an important element of local control and represents an option that should be preserved for municipalities.

Finally, the bill repeals RSA 79-A:25-a and 25-b, which authorize the establishment of the LUCT fund, an accounting mechanism that allows LUCT revenues to be segregated from the General Fund until the legislative body within a traditional Town Meeting setting addresses the use of that revenue at the next annual meeting. There is no reason to remove this local option for the vast majority of communities in New Hampshire with traditional Town Meetings.

            The disposition of LUCT proceeds as part of New Hampshire’s Current Use program has been a topic of robust conversation and debate amongst citizens within our state’s communities since the program was established in 1973.   Local control, however, should be preserved, and the changes proposed as part of HB 1515 are contrary to the interests of New Hampshire communities and the state as a whole. 

Todd I. Selig has been Durham Town Administrator since 2001.  After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Syracuse University, Mr. Selig went on to complete a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of New Hampshire.  He has served in a variety of positions within both the municipal and school sectors including positions in Raymond, Laconia, New Boston, Hopkinton, and now Durham, NH.  In 2003, Todd Selig was awarded the Caroline Gross Fellowship allowing him to attend the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  He was named as one of New Hampshire’s “40 Under Forty” by The Union Leader in 2005.  Mr. Selig serves as chair of the board of directors for the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies and previously served as a trustee and vice-chair of the board of PRIMEX (N.H. Public RiskManagement Exchange).  He is a member of the International City/County Management Association, a member of the New Hampshire Municipal Managers’ Association, and a member of the Laconia and Durham Historical Societies.  Originally from Laconia, NH, Mr. Selig resides with his wife and two daughters inDurham, New Hampshire.