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Building aid: Not a blank check

August 20. 2018 9:47PM

The only natural check on a politician’s urge to spend money is the prospect of having to tax someone to pay for it. When a politician can spend money that won’t be paid for several years, things get out of control.

Such was the case with New Hampshire’s school building aid program. The Legislature imposed a moratorium on new projects nine years ago, but the state is still on the hook for $33 million in local school construction aid from previously-approved projects.

That’s well under the $50 million cap put in place in 2013. Now some lawmakers in Concord are pushing to lift the moratorium and allow school districts to again apply for state grants to cover 30 to 60 percent of local school construction costs.

Whether to build a new school should remain a local decision, with local taxpayers weighing the costs and benefits. When the Legislature provided an open-ended subsidy, costs ran out of control.

The Legislature could run the building aid program through the state’s capital budget, which sets priorities for long-term spending. Or it could give the state Department of Education authority to award state aid based on need and merit. Each approach has its pros and cons, and lawmakers should debate them when they consider resuming the building aid program next year.

It should not resume writing blank checks to local school districts, checks that would be cashed over the next 20 years.

Schools State Government Editorial

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