- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

A review of Jeanne Shaheen's six-year record as governor of New Hampshire indicates the "Live Free or Die" state is in the midst of crisis. Mrs. Shaheen's handling of the economy, the education-funding conundrum, and the sacred cow of New Hampshire politics taxes has alienated several state constituencies, and in the process changed New Hampshire for the worse.
The failures of the Shaheen administration to fund schools and revive a lagging economy are well-known. Certainly, the governor's failure to effectively form coalitions to push her education agenda demonstrates her lack of political acumen. After promising school finance reform, the legislature and state Supreme Court repeatedly and embarrassingly rebuffed Mrs. Shaheen.
In the early 1990s, poorer school districts, unhappy over disparate school financing, filed suit against the state. The litigation, known as the Claremont case, made it to New Hampshire's Supreme Court. The plaintiffs said funding schools through local property taxes was unfair because certain communities had larger tax bases and therefore better schools. The Supreme Court ruled against the state in 1993 and in late 1997, determining the state's definition of educational adequacy did not "reflect the letter or the spirit of the Granite State's constitutional mandate" to provide children a good education.
The second ruling came in Mrs. Shaheen's first term. After pledging during the 1996 campaign to settle the debate by bringing "the parties to the table to resolve the problem rather than wasting hundreds of thousands of … tax dollars in fighting the case in court," Mrs. Shaheen did absolutely nothing after taking office. Rather, after initially expressing uneasiness with the state's position, the governor changed her tune, calling the Supreme Court's decision "ill-advised and short-sighted."
Over the next four years, Mrs. Shaheen proposed several inadequate measures. Each time, the legislature or Supreme Court rejected her proposals. In June 1998, the court ruled the governor's infamous "ABC" educational plan a cache of tax increases unconstitutional for the same reasons the court previously jettisoned the state's argument in Claremont.
Undeterred, Mrs. Shaheen supported a constitutional amendment giving voters the "right" to overturn the '97 Claremont ruling. The state House and Senate, though, refused two separate attempts to pass the requisite legislation. The governor then pushed the idea of a referendum, which would have "empowered" the people to choose between two tax packages to fund education. This time the legislature solicited an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court to see if the issue was worth debating. Their hunch was correct; the court ruled the referendum unconstitutional, as the measure would make citizens essentially legislators.
In 1999, Mrs. Shaheen proposed an $800 million tax package, including a statewide property tax, higher business taxes, new capital-gains taxes and higher cigarette taxes to finance schools. The plan insulted voters. After all, New Hampshire has neither a sales tax nor a personal income tax, and the state levies a minimal fee on interest and dividends. The legislature rejected most of Mrs. Shaheen's proposal, passing only the statewide property tax measure, which Mrs. Shaheen happily signed.
The Supreme Court, however, concluded the original property-tax proposal was unconstitutional. In early 2001, a blue-ribbon panel put together by Mrs. Shaheen suggested a sales tax to fund education; the legislature balked, choosing instead to make the watered-down state property tax permanent.
The Supreme Court still isn't buying Mrs. Shaheen's version of progress. Last April, it ruled that New Hampshire is not yet providing a quality education for children. To add insult to injury, a private research group recently ranked New Hampshire in the second tier of "smartest states," making it the only New England state not to crack the top 10. Moreover, the latest unemployment figures show a 17 percent increase during Mrs. Shaheen's reign.
While sailing the state into dire straits, Mrs. Shaheen has made sure her union buddies have prospered. First, her administration authorized a measure that allows the State Employee Association (SEA) to impose a mandatory "agency fee" (de facto union dues), on non-union state workers once union membership reaches 60 percent of eligible employees. Then, she conveniently eliminated 1,200 non-union employees from the pool of eligible workers, enabling SEA to meet the threshold sufficient to deduct the agency fee from non-union member paychecks. Beginning early next year, non-union workers are slated to start contributing a "fair share payment" to the SEA, which amounts to 75 percent of union member dues.
In return for scratching the backs of unions, the Shaheen campaign has taken at least $221,000 from organized labor. Moreover, during the debate over a Department of Homeland Security, Mrs. Shaheen opposed President Bush's common-sense plan, contending it would rob unionized employees of their rights. In Jeanne Shaheen's America, unions have higher priority than national security.
In short, school financing has worsened, the economy is floundering, people aren't working and taxes are on the rise. And as New Hampshire languishes, Mrs. Shaheen seems intent on making deals with unions in order to win the next election, rather than helping to educate the next generation.

David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United and the former chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide