You know that game where a guy moves around three cups and you have to guess which cup a bean is hiding under, but somehow you can never guess the right cup? That’s a lot like the way school funding works in our state: money moves around a lot but never ends up where it should.
In its Claremont decisions, the NH Supreme Court ruled that Article 83 of the NH Constitution obligates the state to provide an “adequate” education for all students. In all their wisdom, the court never defined the word “adequate.” But the legislature did. They decided that $3,700 a year would be plenty to provide a child with an adequate education. $3,700. That is a laughable sum. The average cost of educating a student for a year in our state is more than $10,000. But $3,700 is the figure the legislature chose. And to find money, they decided to impose a state property tax.*
Okay, except the NH Constitution also says that whatever tax the state imposes has to be applied equally to everyone who has to pay it. That means everyone who owns property in New Hampshire is required to pay the same rate: this year that rate is $2.06 for every $1,000 your property is worth. So, if your property is worth more, you pay more in state property taxes. Makes sense, right?
Here’s the catch: towns get to keep everything they collect in state property taxes. So what happens? I think you can see where I’m going here. Schools in rich towns get more funding than schools in poor towns. It’s not really state funding at all. The towns are funding education on the backs of the property owners. And for towns that have high property values, their schools are much better.
The state has also stopped paying for teachers’ pensions and put that on towns too. At the same time, they give businesses tax break after tax break which primarily benefit large out-of-state corporations while small businesses get hit with higher property taxes. Another tax cut for businesses is scheduled for 2022. We can’t keep raising property taxes while cutting business taxes.
Together we must stand up for local property taxpayers. I hope you will join the fight and vote for me in November. I’m Mary Till and I’m tired of seeing my property taxes go up every year while large businesses get big tax breaks. This has got to stop!
For more information, see: 1) Taxing Property Statewide and Keeping it Local https://www.nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/how-we-fund-public-services-new-hampshire
2) NPR Article addressing Claremont Court Decisions on Education Funding https://www.nhpr.org/post/report-20-years-after-claremont-ruling-education-funding-property-poor-towns-still-struggling#stream/0
3) UNH Law Review Article p 101 https://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1246&context=unh_lr
*Originally published 10/3/2020. This version includes the update with corrections regarding the Supreme Court Claremont decision.