Dec. 6, 2001 For more information:

For Immediate Release Contact: Pat Remick

431-2006, Ext. 281


PORTSMOUTH, NH -- The Joint Budget Committee for the City of Portsmouth Thursday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate "donor" communities and allow the state to target the communities most in need of education aid.

Committee members pledged to work with their statewide organizations to push for passage of the proposed "hold harmless" amendment that would provide a safety valve for "donor" communities while they continue their efforts to overturn the statewide tax.

The Committee is comprised of members of the School Board, Superintendent Lyonel Tracy, Police Chief Brad Russ, the Police Commission, the Fire Commission, Acting Chief Chris Leclaire, the Portsmouth City Council and City Manager John Bohenko.

The endorsement is another signal of support as the City of Portsmouth, and its fellow 27 Coalition Communities, begin lining up lawmakers, interested groups, and voters to back the "common-sense" proposal before the Legislature reconvenes next month.

Rep. Raimond Bowles, R-Portsmouth, on Monday gained approval from the House Rules Committee to allow introduction of such an amendment, a necessary procedural step following the House's rule not to allow any new legislation to be introduced in the second year of the biennium unless the Rules Committee permits it.

A draft of the "hold harmless" provision says "no political subdivision shall be required to raise or remit to the state, through taxation of real property, funds in excess of the amount required to support the cost of adequate education for pupils in such political subdivision."

Its narrow focus means it would have no impact on towns struggling to provide an adequate education for their children. It only says that no community would be forced to send to Concord more property taxes than the state, under its formula, has determined is necessary to provide an adequate education to the children in that community. Next year, there will be 55 towns forced to "donate" funds from its local property funds for education in other communities.

As of next July 1, Portsmouth -- which ranks near the top of the state in subsidized housing and free and reduced lunches for poor children -- will be required to "donate" $3.7 million, or $179 for every man, woman and child in the city -- to Concord for redistribution to so-called "receiver" communities, including the wealthy suburbs of Bedford and Amherst.

Critics of the statewide property tax, which the Legislature made permanent in June, call it an unjust tax that has created "class warfare" among communities in the state, forced people from their homes and shows the state's dangerous overreliance on property taxes -- the highest in the country.

A constitutional amendment must pass both houses by a 60 percent margin, and be approved by the state electorate by a two-thirds vote, which could come as early as next November.

The Coalition Communities are Alton, Bridgewater, Eaton, Franconia, Freedom, Grantham, Greenland, Hampton, Hampton Falls, Hanover, Hart's Location, Hebron, Jackson, Lincoln, Meredith, Moultonborough, New Castle, New London, Newington, North Hampton, Portsmouth, Rye, Sandwich, Seabrook, Stoddard, Sugar Hill, Sunapee and Waterville Valley.