The Vermont House has given its preliminary approval to a bill that raises the statewide property tax rate for education to one of its highest levels in several years. The vote was 96 to 45.
Every year the Legislature sets the statewide property tax rate for education based on a number of factors including the growth of local school budgets and the value of property in communities across the state.
State officials were expecting local budgets to increase, on average, by 4.8 percent next year but higher health care costs, employee expenses and declining student enrollments have boosted this number.
Bristol Rep. David Sharpe said this means that the statewide residential property tax rate needs to increase 5 cents next year – from 89 cents to 94 cents and the non residential rate will go up 6 cents.
"School Boards have been reporting to the Agency of Education as they have approved budgets for presentation to local voters," said Sharpe. "And those increases have come in at a 5.5 percent level."
A number of lawmakers complained that the increase was too high and that education spending is not sustainable. Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann said the current system is out of control.
"I for one will not be a part of this going forward. I’ve had enough. My constituents have had enough. The families and businesses that I know throughout the state have had enough," said Scheuermann. "I will not be complicit in our continued failures as a body and as a Legislature in general."
Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright urged his colleagues to reject the bill so that other funding plans can be considered.
"In Burlington we’ve had massive increases and there’s a total disconnect about who’s paying for this," said Wright. "So Mr. Speaker it’s clear to me that the system needs overhauling."
But Newfane Rep. Richard Marek said he’s been waiting for a decade for critics of the current system to present a plausible alternative.
"All that is required is that it be constitutional, that it raise sufficient funds and that it convince a majority that it actually is better," said Marek. "I have waited ten years for that but somehow I’ve never actually see it."
The House is expected to consider several amendments to the bill on Thursday afternoon. If the plan receives final approval, it will go to the Senate for its consideration.