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On The Political Front: Romney Drops Out; Education Funding In The Statehouse

Josh Rogers for NHPR

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, what Mitt Romney's exit means for 2016, and a look at the issues up for debate this week at the N.H. Statehouse.

Let’s start with Presidential politics – Mitt Romney won't make said a third run for president. What was more surprising, that he said no, or that he was thinking of running again in the first place?

Hard to say. And Romney’s exit, carried a kind of mixed message, for him and his party. On the one hand he told supporters he believed he could again be the GOP nominee, and cited polls that showed him leading fellow republicans in early voting states, but he also admitted he might struggle in a general election. The post-mortem indicates his decision was informed by the fact that some big-time GOP donors who supported him last time were dim on him giving it another go,  and were perhaps more inclined to back former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Now, Romney basically made New Hampshire his political home base in 2012. He won the New Hampshire Primary easily. With him out, how much does it change things in New Hampshire?

Well, GOP activists I’ve talked with, including people who love Romney and people who don’t, seem to agree that with him out New Hampshire  is truly wide open. Of  course you could argue any race a year off is wide open. And while average voters won’t tune in for months, and candidates up and down the food chain are starting to show up: Ambassador John Bolton, Former New York Gov. George Pataki, Rick Perry will return in next week, so will Ex- Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Rand Paul, has been here, when Jeb Bush shows up isn’t yet clear. The state GOP will hold  a cattle-call style forum for April, it's billing as a kind of official kick off of the primary, but its already on.

Much less action on democratic side, where it’s basically waiting for Hilary.

Well, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have been here often.The draft Elizabeth Warren folks are out there, too, but, yes Hilary Clinton’s support  - or the sense that she’s inevitable - among the democratic activist class is vast. It's hard to see that changing soon.

OK, lets talk about the the Statehouse for a minute. Two bills before the House Ways and Means committee Monday look at broadening business taxes.

Yes. One, sponsored by Republican David Hess, seeks to drop the rate of the business enterprise tax, but extend it to large nonprofits like hospitals and colleges. Hess also proposed this last year. Hospitals were dead set against it then and they will be this time, too. The other, proposed by Democrat Richard Ames, seeks to apply the interest and dividends tax to trusts, and to capital gains among other things. The bill is a definite long shot, but like the BET bill, this allows for a substantive debate of state tax policy.  

And then Tuesday, education funding.

Yes. The issue, as it tends to be on this topic, is whether the current formula, which has been on the books for four years, still doles out the money fairly, or at least as envisioned. There is growing evidence it doesn’t. It boils down to two issues. One, that the law sought to avoid communities seeing dramatic swing sin funding year to year. So it set what amounted to a funding floor and ceiling for school districts.

The floor guaranteed no community would get less than what it received in 2011. And the ceiling made sure communities could receive no more than 8 percent more than it got previous year in adequacy aid. But neither cap no ceiling factored in changes in a school districts population, so districts where populations have dropped are getting more than their share, and districts where populations have grown more than 8 percent a year are getting less.

Overall enrollment in New Hampshire schools has dropped a bit, but some towns have seen spikes. This bipartisan bill, whose lead sponsor is Republican David Bates, aims to get every community that’s been underfunded back to 100 percent. Doing so, will of course take money from districts that are getting more than full adequacy payments. This hearing should be informative as to just how big a problem this is.

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