Freed and Leddy say Act 60 compromise is likely

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(Host) Legislative leaders say they’re making progress on reforming the Act 60 education funding law, despite the very different approaches taken by the House and the Senate.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Republican House Speaker Walter Freed and Democratic Senator Jim Leddy found some St. Patrick’s Day harmony on education funding issues. Speaking before the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce on Monday, the two said the Legislature is committed to Act 60 reform.

But the House and Senate have approached the issue very differently. The House is working on legislation that would shift education funding to sales and income taxes. The Senate bill, which passed unanimously before Town Meeting Day, continues to rely on the property tax to fund education. But Leddy says the Senate is not locked in to the property tax.

(Leddy) “We are open to improvements on what we did. And if that means transforming the way Act 60 is funded and moving toward different bases for that funding, there are many of us in the Senate who are more than open and frankly have long waited for that opportunity.”

(Dillon) Speaker Freed says more needs to be done to control the rising cost of education. Schools in Vermont are now run by towns and supervisory unions. Vermont now has 60 supervisory unions, each with administrative staff and salary expenses.

Yet according to Freed, the entire state system is smaller than individual school districts in other parts of the country. Freed suggests that Vermont move to a county-based form of school governance.

(Freed) “So I would have to advocate if you’re truly interested in containing the costs and bringing some type of control in, you’d have to reorganize your delivery of education on some kind of county-wide model, would be my suggestion. Now Chittenden County is probably too large, it would have to be two. And some counties are too small and would have to be combined. But a county governance, where you’d elect a county school board, you’d have a country grand list instead of a state grand list that you have almost no control over.”

(Dillon) The business-oriented audience also questioned Freed about the House plan to levy a new sales tax on services to fund education. Freed says no one likes paying taxes, but that the plan should lower property taxes.

(Freed) “Folks, everybody’s going to find something they dislike when we move to consumption taxes. I can assure you we’ve heard from every single one of them out there, that they don’t like property taxes, but you don’t like a tax on everything else that could be in the mix. Well, education right now, by the vote of all those school boards, is a billion dollar endeavor and somebody’s got to pay for it. I don’t think that a move to tax services or labor in a service economy would be that negative on businesses.”

(Dillon) Senator Leddy says there’s growing consensus against relying on the property tax to fund education. He says he agrees with Freed that Vermont needs a variety of revenue sources to pay for schools.

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

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