Democrats agree with many of Douglas’ priorities, but oppose lottery lease

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(Host) Democrats in the Statehouse found much common ground in Governor Jim Douglas’s new initiatives.

Members of the majority party in Montpelier said they also want to expand health care, lower property taxes, and add more housing in Vermont.

But the Democrats also reiterated their opposition to leasing the state lottery.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Douglas wants to use the $50 million up front payment from the lottery lease to reduce property taxes and pay for school construction.

But House Speaker Gaye Symington said the lottery proposal sounds is a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem.

(Symington) If we have one time money, we should not use it to artificially lower tax rates for only one year, albeit an election year. Instead, I propose to establish a cost containment assistance fund to provide a state share of investments to lower costs of public schools.

(Dillon) Symington said the state could help schools save money by funding energy conservation or school consolidation.

(Symington) Let’s invest in long term cost containment not election year BandAids that could actually in the long run put additional pressure upwards on school spending.

(Dillon) A big piece of the governor’s economic agenda is removing the capital gains exemption from state income taxes. This means that capital gains – such as money made from the sale of stocks or bonds — will be subject to the income tax.

Senate President Peter Shumlin says Democrats are very familiar with Douglas’s argument for tax equity.

(Shumlin) There isn’t a Democrat, Independent, Progressive in this building who doesn’t believe that the capital gains exclusion in Vermont has a long time been a giveaway to the wealthy at the expense of those who can least afford it. And every one in this room would want to cut income taxes. And why wouldn’t we? Everyone wants to cut taxes if we can. But one cannot propose to cut taxes at the same time that you’re proposing $50 million in new revenue.

(Dillon) Shumlin links the governor’s plan to lease the lottery – and then use the $50 million for property tax cuts and school construction – to the capital gains proposal.

(Shumlin) And you can’t suggest that there will be no tax increases, when at the same time you’re saying your budget relies on $50 million bucks of money that’s not there.

(Dillon) Shumlin also said he wants to hear more details about the governor’s plans to expand health coverage.

(Shumlin) I was only surprised that he suggested that we have him a bill by Town meeting day when he didn’t lay out any specific plans for what should be in the bill. And that’s vintage Jim Douglas.

(Dillon) Democrats say they plan to move quickly on their signature issue from last year – a plan to expand the state’s energy efficiency programs to include heating fuels. Douglas supports the concept – but there is not yet agreement on a funding source.

For VPR News I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

 AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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