The Last Word

Only Nixon could go to China, the saying went.

In February 1972, President Richard Nixon made history by visiting mainland China in the middle of the Cold War — the first time a U.S. president had set foot in that country in over 20 years. He was able to avoid the public perception of being soft on communism, although that was what he was doing, because he was widely perceived as being implacably hostile to communism.

And just as only Nixon could go to China, apparently only Lynch – that is our new governor, John Lynch – can propose an education-funding plan based on ignoring the Claremont decisions and get away with it.

In a nutshell, Lynch’s plan is to repeal the state property tax, replace the approximately $20 million of it that gets distributed from donor towns to receiver towns by increasing the tobacco tax and distribute state funding based on taxable income.

Donor towns like it because they pay less taxes. The income tax crowd likes it because it establishes the principle that education funding should be based on taxable income. The Claremont plaintiffs like it because they get more money. And conservative Republicans like it because it repeals the state property tax.

But the Lynch plan manifestly does not comply with the Claremont decisions.

Ironically, the Lynch plan resembles an education-funding proposal made in 1999 by conservative Republicans in response to the Claremont II decision. Known as the Corbin plan, it would have fully funded the Augenblick formula, a system for dispensing aid to property-poorer school districts. It also would have provided exemptions to homeowners on half of their local property tax, up to a cap of $100,000 of valuation.

Lynch’s plan is legally indistinguishable from the Corbin plan because it too would use the local property tax, to different degrees in different towns, to fund the cost of the adequate education required by the Claremont decisions.

In 1999, the left panned the Corbin plan. In 2005, they are giving the Lynch plan a free pass. Why the difference?

One reason is that Lynch and his supporters unwaveringly insist that their plan conforms to the funding mandates of the Claremont decisions. Supporters of the Corbin plan exuded in-your-face defiance. The Lynch plan is less threatening to the left because it does not explicitly set a precedent for the Legislature to reject judicial activism.

Another reason: With an income tax off the political table for the time being, the Lynch plan is the big government alternative. Although it takes state funding away from the so-called rich towns that don’t need it, it doesn’t cut overall spending.

But the biggest reason that the Lynch plan is getting a free pass from the left is that it is Lynch’s plan, and he is one of them. Although his plan manifestly fails to comply with the Supreme Court’s education-funding mandates, he is viewed as a pragmatist who has the same goals the court does.

The left has not forgotten that, when it abandoned pragmatism in 2002 and ran income tax zealot Mark Fernald for governor, the result was a conservative Republican in the corner office and Republican super-majorities in the House and Senate. Better to have someone as governor who will move the state incrementally toward their goals, than to spend more time roaming the political wilderness.

Ed Mosca is a Manchester attorney and former chairman of that city’s Republican Party.

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