From Gary Reno's Statehouse Dome
WALKING THE FINE LINE: House and Senate members negotiating a constitutional amendment on education and how it is funded may be taking the weekend off, but the real negotiations are likely to continue.
The official line last week was that constitutional attorneys would spend the weekend reviewing every word in House- and Senate-proposed constitutional amendments to determine the implications and constitutional legality. The real work, however, is going on among attorneys for the Senate, the House and the Governor's Office and a long list of outside legal and political advisers, not with the members of the negotiating teams for the House and Senate.
The goal is to find the right language to persuade 239 House members to vote in favor and reach the 60 percent threshold that would put the amendment on the ballot without losing Senate votes, which would happen if there was not enough of a guarantee the state would continue to pay.
That's a very fine line. The problem for House Speaker William O'Brien and House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt is about 100 House members believe the court overstepped its authority in the Claremont decisions and will not accept any amendment that continues those decisions by making education and its funding a state responsibility.
Nearly every one of the 104 Democrats in the House opposes an amendment. Put the two numbers together and it becomes nearly impossible to reach 60 percent.
House and Senate leaders believe Gov. John Lynch needs to be on board if the amendment is to have any chance of winning the two-thirds majority needed in the general election to be approved.
“You cannot underestimate the importance of having the leadership of the House and Senate, the members of the House and Senate and Governor Lynch all on the same page,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “This is a critical issue for the future of our state and involves our tax structure and a civilized society's obligation to educate its future, its children.”
He said a bipartisan approach is needed across the political spectrum in order to convince 67 percent of voters the amendment is in theirs and the state's best interest.
Lynch has consistently said he will not accept an amendment that does not acknowledge the state's educational responsibility.
The latest House proposal includes the word “responsibility,” but also makes clear that only lawmakers would determine education standards, accountability, how much money would go to education and how it would be distributed. To date, the governor has not agreed to that provision.
You have to wonder, at some point, do the House and Senate decide to go on without the governor and take their chances by putting the question on the ballot in November and letting the voters decide?
The answer should be clear by the end of next week.
Education Bills in the New Hampshire Legislature > CACR 12 A Constitutional Amendment on Education Funding >