New Policy Report Focuses on Property Tax and School Funding: Lincoln Institute Holds New Hampshire Policy Briefing

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New Hampshire lawmakers and policy analysts gathered for presentation by Lincoln Institute visiting fellow Daphne A. Kenyon, on targeting education aid and property tax relief, to hear the results of a newly released report featuring NH as a case study.

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy's latest Policy Focus Report, "The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma," was the subject of a special briefing on education aid and property tax relief -- issues that are making news in New Hampshire and which are the subject of upcoming debate in the State House and at Town Meetings across New Hampshire.

The report, by Daphne A. Kenyon, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute, a think tank based in Cambridge, Mass., examines the twin pressures that state policymakers face in maintaining education funding while responding to taxpayer complaints about property tax bills.

The Policy Focus Report, the latest in a series published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, includes a comprehensive review of recent research on both the property tax and school funding, and summarizes case studies of seven states -- California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. The majority of these states are heavily reliant on property tax revenues to fund schools.

"Those who have tried to reduce property taxes and improve school performance at the same time have not met with much success," Kenyon said.

The briefing was designed to address the policy challenges now facing New Hampshire in education funding and property tax. One of the legislature's highest priority tasks in the coming session will be to complete its response to the state's Supreme Court mandate on school funding. Legislators also face challenges in providing adequate property tax relief, particularly since New Hampshire relies more heavily on property taxes than any other state.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the report recommends addressing property taxes and school funding separately:

  • Property tax relief. Arguing that the use of property tax revenue for schools is fundamentally sound, the report points out that increasing state aid for education does not necessarily result in lower property taxes, and it cautions against switching to greater reliance on a sales tax, for example, to fund schools. Instead, a more targeted effort can achieve fairness and relief, with the greater use of "circuit breakers" that adjust property tax bills based on ability to pay. Many states do not take advantage of this policy instrument, or limit its application to the elderly.
  • School funding. Addressing the complex issue of statewide funding for schools, the report also recommends a targeted approach -- distributing state aid for public education to the neediest school districts, schools and students. State policy makers should not aim to provide any specific percentage for the state's share of funding K-12 education, the report concludes.

"The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma" is the fifteenth Policy Focus Report published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and follows the two most recent reports, on the management of state trust lands in the West, and the use of conservation easements to protect open space.

Founded in 1974, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy conducts research and policy evaluations, holds conferences, provides education and training, supports demonstration projects, and publishes books and reports on policy issues relating to land. The Lincoln Institute seeks to improve the quality of public debate and decisions in the use, regulation, and taxation of land by integrating theory and practice, and providing a nonpartisan forum for the discussion of related issues, in the U.S. and abroad, with major programs in Latin America and China.

Daphne A. Kenyon is a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute, and principal of D. A. Kenyon & Associates, a public finance consulting firm in Windham, New Hampshire. She also serves on New Hampshire's State Board of Education and the Education Commission of the States. Previously, she served as senior economist with the Office of Tax Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Urban Institute, and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations; chair of the Economics Department at Simmons College; and assistant professor at Dartmouth College.

The briefing included comments by two New Hampshire policymakers, Representative Neal M. Kurk and Martin L. Gross, Esq.

"The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma" is available for free downloading at http://www.lincolninst.edu/.

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