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State Journal: Stunning offer; Society's taxers?; Loophole closer

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The plaintiffs in Tennessee's finance-equity lawsuit threw state school officials, their adversaries in court, for a temporary loop recently by offering to go along completely with the officials' proposed solution to school-funding disparities.

The group of 77 school districts is challenging the constitutionality of the state's funding system in a case currently being argued before a Davidson County court. Meanwhile, Gov. Ned McWherter and the state school board have proposed a comprehensive set of reforms that would greatly increase state education spending in order to reduce funding gaps between districts.

Lewis Donelson, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, surprised courtroom listeners last month by offering to drop the suit if the judge hearing the case would order the legislature to enact Mr. McWherter's plan.

"We've spent a day and a half with [Commissioner of Education Charles E.] Smith in court. I like everything he said," observed Mr. Donelson. "I spoke to my clients. We feel that this would be a tremendous advance."

"I'm not so sure this might not be the only way we will ever get this done," he added.

Stunned state officials conferred for half an hour before declining Mr. Donelson's offer.

Facing a similar lawsuit by low-wealth school districts, Gov. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire recently blasted efforts to use the courts to force costly school-finance reforms.

"I just find it unconscionable that any court in New Hampshire would want to essentially take over the taxing authority of the House of Representatives," he said at a news conference late last month.

If plaintiffs in the suit, which is expected to be filed early next year, are successful, Mr. Gregg said, "the courts essentially will be directing the legislature to pass a tax."

It remains to be seen, the Governor added, "whether our judges view the constitution as setting them up as the taxers in our society."

After proposing a $756-million spending increase for education next year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert J. Grover of Wisconsin received a sharp rebuke from a state budget official, who said that such a large spending request should have been accompanied by a plan for how to pay for it.

"Close the [tax] loopholes," Mr. Grover responded. "I've got lots of answers for that."

"I didn't know that was my job," he added.--hd

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