Douglas urges Act 60 reform

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says the large number of school budgets rejected on Town Meeting Day demonstrates the public’s growing frustration with Act 60. Douglas says he’ll urge lawmakers to include a strong cost containment provision in any Act 60 reform plan that is considered by the Legislature.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When lawmakers come back to Montpelier next Tuesday, a lot of attention will be focused on legislation to reform Act 60. But finding a compromise plan will not be easy.

The Senate last week gave its strong approval to a bill that increases the state block grant to $7,000 a student; the proposal is financed by raising the statewide property tax rate to $1.38.

The House Ways and Means Committee is taking a very different approach. It’s seriously looking at a plan to use a local income tax for residents and a statewide property tax for non-residents and businesses. The bill would also expand the state sales tax to include many professional services.

The governor says the defeat of more than 40 school budgets on Town Meeting Day is a strong message to the Legislature:

(Douglas) “But the taxpayers are really feeling the pinch and now they’re beginning to voice it in terms of refusing to approve school budgets that go up at rates they can’t sustain. The large number of defeats is certainly evidence of that and that’s why I believe it’s more critical that the state work harder than ever to find a solution to the school funding dilemma.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he has problems with elements of both the House and the Senate plans. The governor says any compromise proposal must include a strong cost containment measure. He suggested that it might be a good idea to drop the eligibility cap for the income sensitivity provision of Act 60 from $80,000 to perhaps $50,000:

(Douglas) “It’s certainly true that a majority of taxpayers have the opportunity to cap their state property tax burden by the income sensitivity provision or the homestead exemption. And it think it’s very important to revisit that. We have to have a connection between the amount of the school budget that voters approve and the impact on their personal tax burden and without that nexus, there’s going to be less pressure to find a solution.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he hopes to work with lawmakers on this issue in the coming weeks and he’s not sure if he’ll present his own Act 60 reform plan to the Legislature this session.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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