(Host) The House Ways and Means Committee is reviewing privacy concerns associated with the state’s new property tax rebate and prebate system.
Some lawmakers on the panel think this issue is being blown out of proportion for political purposes.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) The concerns arose this summer when a new system was put into place for homeowners who qualify for the income sensitive provisions of Act 68.
Instead of receiving a check from the state, the homeowners are getting a direct credit on their property tax bills.
The question is whether or not the amount of this subsidy is public or private information because property tax bills are considered public.
The Attorney General’s office and the Tax Department testified that there’s no doubt the information is public unless lawmakers take steps to make it private.
Secretary of State Deb Markowitz urged the panel to clarify this issue in January:
(Markowitz) "I would respectfully request that this committee do the hard work of taking another look at this issue to give clarity so that our town clerks know what’s required of them and so that the public know what they’re rights are in this regard."
(Kinzel) For the past few months, House Republicans have called for major changes to the current system. South Londonderry Rep. Rick Hube says it’s relatively easy to determine the household income of anyone who receives a tax adjustment:
(Hube) "What we potentially subject the people of this state to is the nefarious aggregators, the nefarious direct marketers. It could be trying to peddle low income mortgages, low cost mortgages with a pretty dramatic step up, credit cards all sorts of things. So we have to be careful in where this information goes and who has access to it."
(Kinzel) Tax Department General Counsel Molly Bachman disagreed with Hube’s assessment. She says there are a number of factors that are used to determine household income and that there’s no simple way to calculate a final figure.
Bud Otterman is a Republican from Topsham and serves as the vice chairman of the Ways and Means committee.
Otterman thinks some of his colleagues are using this issue to score political points:
(Otterman) "I think it’s greatly exaggerated. I have to suspect that there are politics involved here. That’s a hard thing to think right up here in Montpelier isn’t it? But no, I haven’t heard anybody. I think in my district who is concerned about this."
(Kinzel) Ways and Means chairman Michael Obuchowski wants to see if a group of state officials can find a relatively simple solution to help keep this information private:
(Obuchowksi) "Not a solution that would provide for an opt out or a complete rewrite of the system but deals specifically with this privacy issue concern and the ability to figure back what a person’s income is."
(Kinzel) The committee plans to meet again in several weeks to further consider this issue.
For VPR News I ‘m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.