UPDATE: Supreme Court hears from both sides on education tax credits
Protesters gather Wednesday morning on the steps of the New Hampshire Supreme Court in anticipation of oral arguments on the constitutionality of a business tax credit that benefits students at religious schools. (PAT GROSSMITH/UNION LEADER)
The case involved an appeal by the state in a lawsuit filed by Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing New Hampshire Public Education, in which a Strafford County Superior Court judge ruled it unconstitutional six months after it became law in January 2013.
Under the program, businesses receive tax credits of up to 85 percent on donations to a private organization that then awards the scholarships.
Assistant attorney general Richard W. Head contended the law is constitutional, even though an amicus brief was filed by Gov. Maggie Hassan who sided with the plaintiffs contending the tax credit is an education voucher program that will undermine funding of public education. Democratic Gov. John Lynch vetoed the 2012 legislation when he was in office, but the Republican-controlled Legislature overrode it.
Head contended the money cannot be considered public funds because the government never receives it.
Previous story follows:
Protesters gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court in anticipation of today's oral arguments.
Attorneys are arguing the constitutionality of the state's business tax credit that benefits students at religious schools.
Gov. Maggie Hassan, in an amicus brief, is siding with the plaintiffs, urging the high court to uphold a lower court ruling that it is unconstitutional to use education voucher tax credits to fund scholarships to religious, non-public schools. Hassan has said diverting limited education funds from public to religious schools makes it more difficult for the state to meet its obligation to provide an adequate public education to New Hampshire students.
Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn said the education tax credit program, passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2012, helps poor students attend schools they otherwise could not afford.
The case stems from an appeal of Strafford County Superior Court Judge John M. Lewis' June 17, 2013, ruling that the education tax credit program is unconstitutional because it diverts tax payments to religious schools.
The program allows businesses to receive credits against their business taxes equal to 85 percent of amounts they donate to state-designated "scholarship organizations."
The organizations may then award scholarships of up to $2,500 to low-income, primary and secondary school students to attend either non-public schools, public schools outside their home district or to defray costs of home schooling.
Attorneys for the state of New Hampshire defended the program, claiming the money cannot be considered public funds because it never comes to the government.
But Hassan, in her brief, said state case law repeatedly treated tax credits as spending public tax dollars.
The case is being argued for the plaintiffs by Gilles R. Bissonnette for Duncan and the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and Alex J. Luchenitser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Assistant attorney general Richard W. Head is arguing the case for the state, along with Michael J. Tierney and Richard D. Komer.
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