Bill could make school, municipal budget reconsideration difficult

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(Host) Under a new bill approved in the Vermont Senate, towns could make it more difficult for voters to seek a reconsideration of school and municipal budgets.

Backers of the plan say it’s needed because, in a number of communities, small groups of voters have been able to tie up local budgets for months.

Opponents argue the bill isn’t good for the democratic process.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Under current state law, a town must hold a revote on a local budget if 5% of registered voters in the community sign a petition requesting such an action.

This legislation gives individual towns the authority to change these rules as long as local voters support the change.

The bill allows towns to raise the threshold to require a revote to as many as 20% of its registered voters.

Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeannette White urged her colleagues to support the measure:

(White) “Since we’ve gone to Australian ballots in many town questions, this has become a tactic of some groups. And the tactic is, don’t play in the first round. Wait till the second round and defeat it and you can have a smaller number. I think this is a very important step to reducing the tyranny by a small minority.”

(Kinzel) Caledonia County senator George Coppenrath said he’s also concerned that far fewer voters turn out for budget re-votes.

(Coppenrath) “Fewer people would turn out where you might have in a small town you might have 5 or 600 people show up at Town Meeting and vote to pass something. You might have a hundred or two show up at the subsequent meeting and vote to rescind that previous vote.”

(Kinzel) But Essex Orleans senator Bobby Starr opposed the bill because he says it’s undemocratic. He argues that many working people are unable to attend Town Meeting and a budget revote by Australian ballot gives them an opportunity to have a voice in the process.

(Starr) “I’ve always been one to protect the minority and I can see where town managers, select boards, school boards – they’d love something like this because they’re going to put the heavy hand on the minority.”

(Kinzel) The measure is expected to come up for final approval in the Senate early next week. The House has already approved similar legislation.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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