NH education amendment fails in House
CONCORD, N.H.—Voters won't be asked in November to decide whether state lawmakers should have more control over public school funding after a proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate on Wednesday, but failed to win enough House votes to be placed on the ballot.
The amendment to the state constitution needed to be passed with a three-fifths majority in both houses. In the House, it would have needed 237 votes, and it fell short twice in that chamber.
The proposal, which had the backing of legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. John Lynch, would have specified that the Legislature has a responsibility to maintain a public education system, as well as full authority over state funding for it.
The state has been sending a base amount per pupil to all communities, funded by state taxes and a new state property tax, in response to a 1997 state Supreme Court ruling requiring it to provide all children with an adequate education. But lawmakers have been trying for years to nullify the ruling, and many considered this year the best chance at success.
Supporters argued that the proposed amendment was necessary to allow the state to target aid to needy communities and to make it harder to challenge education laws in court. Rep. Michael Balboni, R-Nashua, noted that Wednesday was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied operation that paved the way for the end of the World War II, and described the compromises that were part of it.
"We, not with guns and bullets, but with the authority given to us by the people of New Hampshire, can set in motion a plan that will finally bring an end to the stranglehold placed on this great state by the Supreme Court," he said.
Others said they weren't sure if they agreed with the amendment but said voters should be given a chance to decide in November. Any constitutional amendments that make the ballot must then be passed by two-thirds of voters to take effect.
"We are not enacting something we are submitting it to the people," said Rep. David Hess, R-Hooksett, who urged his colleagues to approve the amendment not because it was perfect but because it was "possible."
But Rep. Andrew Manuse, R-Derry, likened the amendment to "waving the white flag of defeat" and admitting the court was correct. He said lawmakers should hold out for a better constitutional amendment.
"I'm raising the battle flag right here, right now," he said.
Some opponents said it would allow the state to walk away from education funding, while others feared it would force the state down the road toward higher taxes. That alone was reason to reject the amendment, said Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, who said he could argue against the amendment from both conservative and liberal perspectives.
"The very fact that I could debate myself is an indication that this is not the amendment we need," he said.
Including the word "responsibility" in the amendment was key to getting the support of Lynch, a Democrat. Though he has no direct role in proposed constitutional amendments by either signing or vetoing them, Lynch's support was seen as key to getting enough Democrats to back it and get it through the House. But just one Democrat voted for the measure in the House's first vote, which was 244-144, and none voted for it the second time, when the vote was 224-141.
In the Senate, where the measure passed 17-6, Senate President Peter Bragdon said he was disappointed by the House action.
"We will try again next year to allow the people of New Hampshire to vote on this critical issue," he said.