Dead Beat Dads, Meet Deadbeat Legislators
(The Keene Sentinel, September 3, 1998)


Not long ago, a national politician said that the people in New Hampshire are "rich dead-beats." He was referring to the fact that we are the seventh richest state, but are on the bottom of the list in aid to education and donations to charity. Of course, we in New Hampshire feel this criticism is unfair as well as unkind, but the current debate about how we finance our schools doesn't help our defense much.

In fact, dead-beat parents who want to avoid responsibility for the children they sired now can gain arguments from New Hampshire legislators who are opposing the Supreme Court decision that the state must provide education aid to cities and towns.

Some legislators are pushing a constitutional amendment that would legitimize the state’s practice of foisting the cost of education on to local school districts, at the cost of troubling inconsistencies in the quality and burden of education funding.

Their rallying cry is "local control." They say that any money given to the cities and towns would interfere with the local control of education. With money will come state government grabs for power. The local communities will be little more than puppets of the large and power-hungry state government. However, the amendment would allow the state to remain in control of all the content schools offer.

Deadbeat parents must welcome this bit of logic. After all, the wife (in most cases) is the one who makes the vast majority of decisions with the kids, so she should also have the responsibility for feeding, clothing, sheltering and educating them. If he gave her a lot of money, then he would have more say and that would be wrong. With an amendment like this for dead-beats, they could then control the way the family lives and make decisions for them even though they wouldn’t have to pay the bills.

Recently, a prominent legislator said that complying with the court’s decision would spend money the state just doesn’t have. "It’s not too much money. It’s just that we don’t have it," he said.

Well, dead-beat dads can appreciate this line of reasoning. They are forever crying about how they don’t have the money, even when they buy new cars and houses, date new women, and even re-marry and have more children.

If the state government had fully funded its obligation to local communities under its own Augenblick Plan, there would have been no lawsuit and no ruling by the Supreme Court. But it was all too easy for legislatures to avoid dealing with the shortage of revenue by simply saying, "We’ll fund the Augenblick Plan at 30 per cent, because that is all the money we have." What deadbeat parent wouldn’t love to have that option?

Yet another response from dead-beat parents is to accuse the judge and court system of being biased in favor of the family. They often claim that the court oversteps its bounds by giving the spouse and kids too much.

This refrain can be heard as well by legislators who oppose the Supreme Court decision. They say that "unelected, unqualified judges" have over-reacted. But the Supreme Court is comprised solidly of good Republican judges, duly appointed by Republican governors and passed by Republican dominated legislatures. How could they all have become so liberal, so activist, and so wrong so suddenly?

As the various plans to avoid dealing with the court order are hatched, the legislature’s lack of credibility on this issue resurfaces time and again. Legislators sound amazingly like those dead-beat parents who once again promise to do what is right, despite having a trail of broken promises in their past.

Now, at long last, they say they will pay their fair share and help the schools. But before they do, they want us to pass a constitutional amendment that says they never have to and that prohibits the courts ever again to rule against them.

How believable is that?