Douglas, Symington disagree over tax policy

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is criticizing House Democrats for proposing tax increases to pay for health care and transportation.

But the Speaker of the House says the governor’s own proposals would unfairly shift the burden to businesses and property owners.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) For weeks, Douglas has said the Democrats are too eager to raise taxes to solve a number of funding issues. On Friday, his criticism got a little more pointed.

(Douglas) “If raising taxes were an Olympic sport, House Democrats would win the gold medal.”

(Dillon) In recent days, a House committee has proposed hiking the gas and diesel taxes by six cents a gallon. A health care plan moving through the House would be funded in part by a cigarette tax of 60 cents per pack. And lawmakers are also looking at restructuring the property transfer tax to pump more funds into affordable housing.

Douglas won’t say which taxes – if any – he would veto. But he says the budget he proposed does not require any revenue increases.

(Douglas) “This is not the direction in which Vermonters want us to go. We want to make Vermonter more affordable for the people of our state, the families, and not less affordable.”

(Dillon) But House Speaker Gaye Symington says Douglas administration has proposed revenue increases, it’s just not calling them taxes.

Symington, a Jericho Democrat, says Douglas wants to raise a variety of fees to fund transportation projects. And she says the governor also wants to take money from the Education Fund to pay for roads and bridges. According to Symington, that plan will lead to higher property taxes.

(Symington) “I think to claim that he has put forward a budget that doesn’t rely on tax increases is not real. I think to claim that his health care proposal doesn’t require new revenues is not real.”

(Dillon) The governor’s health care plan would require people who can get insurance through their employers to sign up for the coverage. Democrats – and some business groups – say that would shift about $45 to $50 million to companies. Speaker Symington:

(Symington) “There have been no more tax increases proposed in this legislature, by the full House, unless you want to perpetuate the charade that this $50 million isn’t a tax increase.”

(Dillon) The governor and the Democrats are also deeply divided over how to use some $14 million in tobacco settlement money. The governor wants to save the funds for a scholarship plan. The Democrats want to spend it on health care.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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