Updated: Key GOP senator won't vote to repeal education tax credit
CONCORD - One of two Republican state senators to vote against repealing a controversial education tax credit said Thursday she won't join a Democratic repeal bid in the closely-divided state Senate.
The decision by state Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, tipped the balance back toward Republicans who want the education credit to remain in effect.
Lawmakers last year enacted a law that allows businesses to take a tax credit for donations to a program that provides scholarships for private schools and homeschooling.
"When this bill came through last time, I voted against it every time it came to my attention," Stiles told the committee. "I did not support this bill."
Continued opposition from Stiles,and from Sen Bob Odell, R-Lempster, who also opposed the measure last year, would have been enough for Democrats to win on repeal by a single vote.
Republicans hold 13 Senate seats to 11 for the Democrats.
"I don't think a legislative body in New Hampshire should be a body that passes legislation one year, the next year repeals it, then the next year brings some of it back," Stiles said. "That's not the type of Legislature New Hampshire should be."
Instead, Stiles pleaded for giving the law a chance to work, noting that so far, only one group has been approved to make scholarship awards.
"You should not vote to overturn those laws until we have the data that tells us we've waited a sufficient time," Stiles said. "For that reason, I am opposed (to repeal)."
Supporters of rolling back the legislation attacked what they claimed was a diversion of tax dollars away from funding public education.
The program passed last year allows a tax credit on business taxes for 85 percent of the money donated for scholarships.
Critics argued that it is essentially a voucher program, funded through the state's loss of business tax money that is diverted to private school scholarships.
Rep Mary Gile, D-Nashua, who sponsored the repeal measure, says she filed it for a couple of basic reasons.
"New Hampshire has no money," Gile said. "It is poor fiscal policy. As an educator, it is poor educational policy."
But supporters of the tax credit measure say it's the only way that struggling families can afford to make choices about public education that are routine to the more well off.
Kate Baker of Manchester, who heads the first -- and so far the only -- scholarship program established to take advantage of the program, suggested to the committee that the applicant pool is itself evidence of the need for the program.
Baker said her program already has 270 applicants for scholarships.
"Of these 270 applications I have received, the average family income is less than $45,000 and the average family is five people," Baker said. "The median household income in New Hampshire is $65,000, these families are falling $20,000 under the median."
Baker urged the panel to keep what she termed a promise to those families, which have applied for scholarships believing that it represents an opportunity to make choices about where their children go to school.
Repeal advocates argued that giving tax credits means private scholarships supported with public dollars.
"Tax credits are tax dollars taken straight out of appropriations to use the public dollars to finance private education," said Rep. Mary Gorman, D-Nashua. "Public education is not a consumer commodity."
Dianne Bzik, who described herself as a taxpayer from Bedford, said many of her fellow residents don't understand that the tax credits are being taken from public education to support religious-affiliated schools.
"There is a big sucking sound that comes out of state educational funding." she said. "There is no verification that those children are being educated properly."
A number of people with children in tow sat for long periods waiting for a chance to be heard on the bill, to press their case that the bill means low income families will get a choice of where their children go to school.
Dominique Vazquez-Vanasse of New Hampton, who brought her two young children to the capital, said her family canceled car insurance to afford their private school tuition.
"They will not be able to attend this school they love" if the scholarship program is repealed and they no longer have school choice, she said. "We have managed with great difficulty and a lot of sacrifice."