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February 05. 2013 8:48PM

County income tax scheme for local schools gets chilly reception from House committee

CONCORD - A proposal to let counties impose a 1 percent income tax on residents for distribution to cities and towns in the county to help fund education got its required public hearing Tuesday.

"Zero support, zero," said sponsor Delmar Burridge, D-Keene. "That's what I expected."

The measure, co-sponsored by Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene, would allow individual counties to adopt the tax. It includes a "sunset" provision that would wipe the income tax law off the books statewide after six years.

Burridge acknowledged that the bill was dead on arrival in the Legislature, but said the bill fits well with the state's recent practice of shifting some costs back to local government.

"We're pretty good at downshifting, so let's shift it to the county," Burridge said. "We've done it pretty much on anything else."

Burridge carried props to the hearing before the Committee on Municipal and County Government - a potato with a hot chili pepper tacked to it, representing a "hot potato" issue, and Lemon Pledge, representing the promise public officials take to reject new taxes.

The 1 percent income tax would be targeted to fund education in local communities. The state revenue agency would collect the tax and send it to the counties, which would parcel it out to cities and towns.

Burridge said there is no chance the new tax will mean creation of a new layer of government services at the county level.

"The 1 percent income tax on gross income only goes to fund K-12," Burridge said.

House Minority Leader Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, said the bill has no chance of survival.

"You can file any bill, no matter how frivolous, and it will get a fair and open public hearing," Chandler said in a statement. "New Hampshire has a proud tradition of being income tax free; we intend on keeping the entire state, including Rep. Burridge's county, income tax free."

But Burridge wasn't apologizing to anyone for filing the bill, saying he was just fulfilling the obligations of his office. "I took an oath to support the constitution, and the Supreme Court has affirmed that under the Claremont decision, we have to support education," he said.

And if it's unpopular with the voters?

"The voters can kick me out in Keene," Burridge said.

wsmith@unionleader.com


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