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Shaheen hit at school tax panel hearing

by JERRY MILLER on 7/25/00.

NEWINGTON -- Gov. Jeanne Shaheen bore much of the criticism last night during a public forum conducted by the New Hampshire Commission on Education Funding.

The group was established by Shaheen through executive order to investigate alternative taxes for funding schools.

The session, held at the Redhook Ale Brewery at the Pease International Tradeport, was the sixth regional public forum held by the panel and the only one scheduled for the Seacoast.

During the meeting, Commission Chairman David McLaughlin said a list of donors will be issued soon, as soon as he receives "permission from all of them. "

Critics have faulted the commission for raising its funds in secret and not disclosing the donors.

The forum drew more than 100 area residents, including more than 30 speakers, but only five on the 13-member commission members attended.

Shaheen's statewide property tax is particularly unpopular in the Seacoast.

Ken Fox, chairman of Rye selectmen, faulted Shaheen for failing to seek the panel's recommendations until after the November general elections. Fox characterized Shaheen's approach as "business as usual."

"The findings must be made before the election . . . otherwise there will be no incentive for the governor to accept them, especially if she disagrees," Fox said.

"The governor must put the needs of the citizens above her own political aspirations . . . Shaheen is pitting one community against another," Fox said.

Wayne Semprini, of New Castle, urged the commission to look beyond new taxes.

A Republican candidate for the District 24 state Senate seat, Semprini added, "The governor is really looking at only half the equation . . . you must also look at education spending."

Semprini warned an income tax would stop growth immediately.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Gordon Humphrey told the panel it has "allowed itself to be used by Gov. Shaheen as a political ploy."

Humphrey accused the Democratic governor of being the only candidate who will not put her school funding plan on the table until after the election.

"I urge you to . . . issue a meaningful interim report not later than Sept. 1," he said.

Skip Kendall, a longtime Seacoast businessman, spoke for the Commission for Sensible School Funding. He urged the panel not to recommend either an income or capital-gains tax.

Of the $ 300 million in new state taxes used to fund education, only $ 10 million will go to the five so-called property-poor communities that filed the Claremont lawsuit, Kendall said.

"The money should be directed to them," Kendall said, as he criticized the current system of donor and receiver towns.

According to Kendall, many receiver communities use the money to reduce their taxes rather than committing the funds to education.

Speaking for the Hampton selectmen, former chairman Fred Rice said, "There are not justifiable reasons to redistribute wealth in the state."

Rice said the donor towns such as Hampton are devastated by the tax. "There is no justification in taking money from one town to support other towns," he said.

Jack O'Reilly, chairman of the Newington selectmen, characterized the state property tax as "evil." He wondered why it does not apply to businesses around Manchester Airport and those at the Pease International Tradeport.

Richard Killion, state director of the Concord-based New Hampshire Citizens
for a Sound Economy, told the panel, "It's a crime that the people of Portsmouth are subsidizing education elsewhere."

He insisted the educational funding problem can best be solved by targeting aid to communities that need it.