SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Whose Financial House Is It, Anyway?
Now that Congressman G.K. Butterfield has solved North Carolina's Medicaid problem, perhaps he should go to work on New Hampshire's school problem.
New Hampshire schools, you see, receive the majority of their funding from property taxes.
For many years, 90 percent of the state's public school funding came from local property taxes. The resulting disparities among schools in rich and poor communities (sound a little familiar?) became the focus of court and legislative fights.
To solve the problem, some folks proposed (gasp) that the legislature impose a statewide income tax. New Hampshire is one of two states that has neither a broad-based, statewide income tax nor sales tax.
Instead, a statewide property tax largely replaced the local schools property tax a few years ago. Homeowners, though, continue to pay pretty hefty combined local and state property taxes, typically at least $3.50 per $1,000 valuation.
In the "Live Free or Die" state, some residents still aren't happy. School disparities persist and the property tax changes have led to other complaints, among them that fixed-income property owners in wealthy communities are paying more than ever because of the across-the-board statewide rate.
Butterfield, having recognized that state legislators just aren't up to the task of solving state finances, perhaps will come to the aid of New Hampshire.
Or, perhaps he'll look at some other state whose financial structure doesn't exactly comport to the ideals as determined by Washington.
Clearly, Butterfield is trying to impose a federally mandated financing solution in his home state.
The First District congressman has sponsored a bill in Congress that would prohibit states from passing along Medicaid costs to local governments.
The chief transgressor? North Carolina, which is the only state now requiring counties to pay a set percentage -- around 5 percent -- of across-the-board Medicaid costs.
In the 2005-06 fiscal year, North Carolina counties paid a total of $460 million for the health-care program for the poor.
Butterfield's interest in the issue isn't surprising. His district in northeastern North Carolina includes several of the poorest counties in the state, which struggle to foot their Medicaid bill.
Still, a federal mandate telling North Carolina -- its governor and elected state representatives -- how to run its finances is heavy-handed at best.
Interestingly enough, in a news release announcing the legislation, Butterfield noted that states have the ability to control Medicaid costs by setting eligibility requirements and determining covered services. Counties have no such ability.
But guess what, Mr. Congressman? Congress also has the ability to control Medicaid costs.
Cost-shifting and finger-pointing, though, seem a lot easier than addressing the real problem -- runaway health care costs that drive up the Medicaid price tag and eat into tax dollars available for other needs, especially public education.
But that's OK.
I hear state Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, plans to sponsor a bill this year requiring that the federal government balance its budget.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at smooneyh
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