Property tax key issue in state campaigns

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(Host) Property tax reform is emerging as one of the key issues in this year’s state campaigns.

While Governor Jim Douglas is proposing a cap on all school spending to keep taxes lower, the Democrats want to make it possible for more Vermonters to pay their property taxes based on their income.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Republican and Democratic leaders agree on one thing – the state is on the verge of a property tax revolt.

For the past few years, property values have increased annually at a double digit rate in many parts of the state.

The Legislature responded by expanding the eligibility requirements for the income sensitive provisions of Act 68. In most cases, families with incomes under $90,000 a year will now see their tax burden capped at between 2 and 3 % of their income.

Governor Jim Douglas is backing a different approach. He wants to cap local school budget growth at 3.5%. Douglas couldn’t convince lawmakers to adopt this plan this past session so he’s going to make it a key issue in his re-election campaign:

(Douglas) “Vermonters need property tax relief. They need it now. They need it badly. I think more and more Vermonters are opening their tax bills from their town treasurers and being shocked at what they see. We need to cap property taxes. That’s what I’ve proposed. That’s what I’ll propose again. We need to bring that under control.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says his plan includes a provision to allow local school budgets to exceed the cap if 60% of the voters support the plan.

House Speaker Gaye Symington wants to expand the number of people who pay their property taxes based on their income and she rejects the governor’s budget cap idea:

(Symington) “One of the things that happens when school costs go up as quickly as they have been is that people turn to simplistic solutions that don’t have a grounding in reality. To have an arbitrary cap defined in a Montpelier knows best attitude, I don’t think reflects the way that Vermonters want to make decisions in their local school districts. They want to have control over those kinds of decisions and have those discussions locally.”

(Kinzel) The Democrats and Republicans both say they’re interested in learning more about a plan proposed by Education Commissioner Richard Cate that would consolidate the administrative operations of many school districts.

The plan could reduce the number of school superintendents in Vermont from 65 to less than 20.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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