Jewish World Review April 8, 2002 / 27 Nissan, 5762

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

N.H.: Another political third rail | CONCORD, N.H. Just as meddling with Social Security is considered a forbidden political third rail in presidential politics, New Hampshire has one of its own -- personal income and sales taxation. Neither has ever been levied here and candidates who have tried to buck the tradition have been buried by it.

But three-term Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen touched the third rail after her 2000 re-election by proposing a sales tax, which failed, and she's still standing tall enough to be the expected Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, without a primary challenger, in November.

Two prominent Republican opponents, incumbent Sen. Bob Smith and U.S. Rep. John Sununu, are poised to remind voters of that sales-tax proposal, and to blame Shaheen for the state's continuing nightmare of finding a way to pay for court-mandated public education improvements.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that any state education funding plan must provide an adequate education, using an equal tax rate, for every child in every town. As a practical matter, this requirement means that needy school districts cannot be specifically targeted.

The current solution is for each town to contribute to the state education fund and get back what it needs to meet the state standard. The result is that there are about 40 or 50 "donor towns," some of which are relatively poor, that wind up helping to pay for schools in other towns, some of which are affluent.

The redistribution has created an uproar in the donor towns that the principle of local support of local schools is thus violated. A statewide property tax was enacted in 1999 to satisfy the court order, but the legislature continues to struggle to find a more satisfactory solution to education funding.

The issue is certain to dominate the political landscape in the gubernatorial race, as well as the Senate contest, with four Republicans and three Democrats vying in the state's September primaries to succeed Shaheen.

Some of the Republicans have already proposed a constitutional amendment that would get around the state Supreme Court's decisions rejecting the targeting of specific needy towns and school districts, and thus avoid the creating of donor towns. A battle cry against a state court running local school systems has resonance with conservatives, but because such an amendment would need three-fifths approval of the legislature, the Democrats, including Shaheen, say it is not achievable.

Former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey, who lost an earlier gubernatorial bid to Shaheen, is seeking the GOP nomination for governor again and is ahead in most polls, if only as a result of wide name recognition in the state.

Two courageous -- or foolhardy -- Democratic candidates, state Sens. Mark Fernald and Beverly Hollinsworth, are proposing that voters grab the other political third rail, a state income tax, as the solution on the school issue. Some surveys indicate voters here may be rethinking the traditional no-no in light of the thorny education funding squabble.

Longtime Republican activist Tom Rath says the presence of the education funding debate assures that "the race for governor will bleed into the Senate race," meaning that the state issue will unavoidably also be central in the latter election.

In a somewhat similar situation in New Jersey a few years ago, a highly unpopular tax increase by Democratic Gov. James Florio became an issue in the reelection bid of Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley. Bradley declined to state a position on grounds it was a state issue beyond his authority, a recalcitrance that nearly cost him his seat against Republican challenger Christine Whitman, later elected governor.

Shaheen, with no primary opposition in her race for the Senate, can't count on either Republican candidate to lay off her record on education funding. As in the past, she can be expected not only to defend it but also to paint either Smith or Sununu as too right-wing for an increasingly moderate New Hampshire, and thus survive having touched the sales-tax third rail.

Comment on JWR contributor Jules Witcover's column by clicking here.

04/01/02: Energy: corporate or political scandal?
03/27/02: Targeting the Federal Election Commission
03/25/02: Campaign finance reform irony
03/20/02: The allure and curse of politics
03/18/02: Political junkies convention
03/15/02: Gore re-enters the arena
03/13/02: Reconsidering presidential succession
03/11/02: Murmurs of a war protest
03/04/02: Dems question expanding, paying for the war
03/01/02: More questions about historians' credibility
02/28/02: Early warning on bio-terrorism
02/25/02: Bush rhetoric, at home and abroad
02/22/02: Strategic influence or strategic deception?
02/20/02: Challenging Gore for 2004
02/19/02: Just a beginning on campaign finance reform'
02/13/02: Taking 'the Fifth'
02/11/02: Campaign finance reform showdown
02/08/02: Dems need a Truman
02/06/02: The Bush budget: Reality replaces poetry
02/04/02: Going after the Axis of Evil --- or not
02/01/02: Bush keeps Dems on ropes
01/30/02: White House task force secrecy
01/25/02: A politically poisonous congressional session
01/23/02: Whither AlGore?
01/21/02: In search of Tom Ridge
01/18/02: Kennedy takes on the tax fight
01/16/02: On the departure of high government officials
01/11/02: The lobbyist as party chairman
01/07/02: Torricelli's clean bill of health
12/12/01: The elevated vice presidency
12/07/01: September 11th and December 7th
12/05/01: Another children's crusade
12/03/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/30/01: Stall on campaign finance reform
11/28/01: More Justice Department folly
11/26/01: Ashcroft still under fire
11/21/01: Normalcy vs. security at the White House
11/12/01: Bush's latest pep talk
11/07/01: The blame game on airport security
11/05/01: Bellwether gubernatorial elections?
11/02/01: Feingold's complaint
10/31/01: Putting the cart before the horse?
10/29/01: Show business on economic stimulus
10/26/01: No political business as usual
10/24/01: Senatorial bravado
10/22/01: Split decision on gun rights
10/16/01: New York mayor's race: What kind of experience?
10/15/01: New York: Making a comeback
10/11/01: Giuliani: Fly in the election ointment
10/08/01: One or two New Yorks?
10/05/01: Providing your own security
10/01/01: Getting back to 'normal'
09/28/01: Muzzling the Voice Of America
09/26/01: Bush's transformation
09/24/01: Using a tragedy for a federal bailout
09/21/01: A view of tragedy at home from abroad
09/14/01: Script for AlGore's coming-out party
08/31/01: Scandal and privacy in politics
08/24/01: On replacing Helms
08/22/01: Politics takes a summer holiday
08/15/01: The resurfacing of AlGore
08/13/01: You can go home again
08/10/01: Governors' Conference drought
08/08/01: Governors defend their turf
08/06/01: New Bush muscle with congress
08/03/01: America's benign neglect
07/30/01: Where is the fear factor?
07/26/01: Dubya, Nancy Reagan and the Pope
07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
07/19/01: Katharine Graham, giant
07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
07/06/01: New comedian in the House (of Representatives)
06/27/01: Spinning Campaign Finance Reform's latest 'headway'
06/25/01: When Dubya says 'the check is in the mail,' you can believe him
06/22/01: The push on patients' rights
06/20/01: If you can't trust historians, how can you trust history?
06/18/01: World Refugee Day
06/13/01: Remembering 'Hubert'
06/11/01: Ventura faces government shutdown
06/06/01: McCain doth protest too much
06/04/01: Memo to the Bush daughters
05/30/01: Missing in action: Democratic outrage
05/30/01: Honoring World War II vets
05/23/01: Lauding the Nixon pardon
05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
05/18/01: A great movie plot
05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

© 2001, TMS