April 5, 2007

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Publisher's Note: Property tax relief
By Jody Reese

By continuing to use property taxes as the way to pay for schools, the state continues to pit one town against the next. Schools, in fact, have gotten so expensive that towns actively work to keep kids out and bring seniors in. The result is a graying region that threatens our long-term growth. According to the article “Too many Oldsmobiles, not enough Yarises” we ran in last week’s paper, without more younger workers New Hampshire may face difficult times ahead.

Property taxes have a great way of pitting the young against the old. But as Peter Francese said in that article, we’re all in it together. One town needs the other, just as our elderly residents need young ones. What would Amherst be without Milford, Nashua or Manchester? What would Bow be without Concord or Allenstown? What would Manchester be without Bedford?

We are all interconnected. Our business travels across town lines, so why do we have an education system that forces us to battle each other? It’s just silly.

Now is not the time for a constitutional amendment that keeps this nasty system. It isn’t any advantage.

However, worries about how we’ll pay for a new system are well placed. Most of us can agree that we don’t want to pay substantially more in taxes or face a new tax that will keep rising, like our health care costs.

The solution to this may lie in taking a close look at how we pay for all government — local and state — here in New Hampshire. For example, do we really need to have a property tax at all on family homes? Why not eliminate taxes on primary residences in favor of a flat income tax that treats everyone the same? Money could then flow back to cities and towns based on population and social need.

Of course, this idea has its negatives too. The only perfect funding plan is the one that’s free to everyone. The point of the income-tax example is to try and put together a way to pay for schools that doesn’t pit young against old or wealthy town against poor town.

Another example of a tax that could replace property taxes is the value added tax, a widely used tax in Europe and Canada. This is a tax that is paid on everything from newspaper ads to taxi rides to tennis shoes. The big negative with this tax is that it would hurt our cross-border shopping.

Whatever way we decide to go, we must face the harm our current system is doing. Just as business leaders are now starting to recognize how our health care system hurts business, business and state leaders must come to terms with how broken our property tax-based system is and look for new solutions.

We all need each other. Let’s try and figure out how we can prosper together, not in spite of each other.