House rejects Senate Act 60 reform bill

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(Host) The House has rejected a Senate plan to include a school funding reform proposal in this year’s supplemental budget bill. Many House Republicans made it very clear they strongly oppose the approach taken by the Senate.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) A key vote in the House on Tuesday demonstrated just how difficult it’s going be for lawmakers to find a compromise approach to Act 60 reform this year.

The Senate wants to increase the statewide property tax rate to $1.38 in order to raise the state block grant for each student to roughly $7,000 a year. Under the Senate plan, a town’s statewide property tax rate would be determined by the size of its school budget.

Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote out a bill by the end of the month that does away with educational property taxes for most residents and replaces them with a local income tax. The House plan would also impose the state sales tax on many professional services.

Because the Senate added its Act 60 reform plan to this year’s supplemental budget bill, the issue facing the House on Tuesday was whether or not House members wanted to adopt the Senate proposal at this time. Burlington Representative Kurt Wright was one of many House Republicans who opposed the Senate plan:

(Wright) “The Senate plan tinkers around the edges of Act 60. It is not real reform. What the voters are demanding, people are talking right now about a taxpayer revolt. We may not have a taxpayer revolt on our hands, but we do have an Act 60 uprising. And I can tell you right now that the voters want real reform and this is not it.”

(Kinzel) Reprepresentative Judy Livingston (D-Manchester) argued that the House Ways and Means Committee deserves more time to come up with its own plan to reform Act 60:

(Livingston) “This is very simple: I refuse to be force fed a bad bill for political reasons. I come from a town that is looking for a fix to Act 60. They’re looking for an improvement in education funding. This is what I promised them and this is not it.”

(Kinzel) House Democratic leader Gaye Symington urged her colleagues to support the Senate plan because she said this vote could be the only time that House members will have a chance to vote on Act 60 reform this year.

(Symington) “And there’s beginning to be more and more comment from the leaders in the House and from the governor’s office that something may not be done this year about school funding. Folks are not arguing that this is the perfect bill. It is a step in the right direction and what is unacceptable is doing nothing.”

(Kinzel) The House voted by a two-to-one margin not to accept the Senate’s effort to include an Act 60 reform plan in the budget adjustment act. A House and Senate conference committee will now look at the differences between the two chambers concerning spending adjustments in the current fiscal year.

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

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