Please leave our constitution alone
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate will decide whether voters should be given an opportunity to vote on any of three proposed constitutional amendments Nov. 6.
Here’s why lawmakers should resist the urge to do so in all three cases:
• CACR 13 would forever ban the imposition of an income tax in the state, a concept we have argued against several times this year, most recently on Sunday.
That’s not because we favor the establishment of such a tax – we don’t – but because lawmakers and voters of today have no businesses dictating budgetary policy to the lawmakers and voters of tomorrow.
Ten, 50, 100, 200 years from now, residents may decide the adoption of an income tax would be in the best interest of New Hampshire. By what logic should we decide in 2012 what our descendants can or can’t do in 2212?
• CACR 6 would require a three-fifths vote of the House and Senate to impose a new tax or fee, raise an existing one, or issue state bonds. Like the previous idea, this one also carries an understandable appeal.
But we already have a working model of a legislative body that is incapable of conducting the people’s business by strict majority rule. It’s called the U.S. Senate, which has distorted the filibuster in recent years to require 60 votes to pretty much pass anything.
• These are just warm-up acts to the real headliner, a proposed amendment (CACR 12) that would do what many have wanted to do for nearly 20 years. Namely, free the Legislature from the confines of the state Supreme Court’s landmark Claremont rulings (1993 and 1997), which found the state has an obligation to ensure an adequate education for every child and that the exclusive reliance on local property taxes to achieve that goal was unconstitutional.
Since that time, dozens of constitutional amendments have been proposed and rejected – until this year, when Democratic Gov. John Lynch reached a compromise with Republican legislative leaders after both chambers had passed their own versions of CACR 12.
Historically, we have opposed all attempts to pass such an amendment – and with good reason: they were little more than bald-faced attempts to undo the court’s ruling and return to the failed policies of yesteryear.
This version, to be fair, is more reasonable than those before it. It even contains two elements we could support: the flexibility to target aid to those communities that need it most and an acknowledgement that the Legislature has a “responsibility” to maintain a public education system based on fairness and educational opportunity for all.
So why our unwillingness to support it?
Because after observing the Republican-controlled Legislature for the past 17 months, we can’t get beyond the realization that this is just a GOP ploy to strike back at the court, seize control of education funding and sacrifice a portion of it at the altar of limited government.
What else are we to think when we hear House Speaker William O’Brien talk with a straight face of finding another $400 million in savings in the next two-year budget – this in a cash-strapped state with no broad-based tax, no stomach for expanded gambling and whose two biggest sources of state revenue are business and state property taxes.
In a perfect world, it is the Legislature – not the courts – that should set education policy, just as it does for health care, public safety and transportation.
Sadly, we just don’t believe this Legislature, or even the next one, can be trusted to do what’s best for one of the state’s most precious resources: its children.