Douglas Makes Property Tax Reform Top Priority

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he plans to identify property tax reform as one of his top priorities for the 2010 session.

As part of that effort, Douglas says he’ll ask lawmakers to make some key changes to the way the state finances education.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Douglas says the recent proposed increase in the statewide property tax rate further highlights the need for lawmakers to tackle this issue and he says he’ll be looking for ways to limit school budget increases at the local level:

(Douglas) "I am looking at more restrictions from state government on local expenditures. I think we have to provide more guidance than we have in how we’re going to get these costs under control."

(Kinzel) Recently, the Vermont State Employees Association negotiated a new two year contract with the state that calls for a 3% pay cut.  The VSEA says it agreed to a wage reduction because the state is facing some very difficult financial issues.

Douglas says he wants the VSEA contract to be a model for new local teacher contracts:

(Douglas) "The largest part of any public school budget is the labor costs – salaries and benefits – and we have a contract with state employees that I hope will be instructive to local officials, that will help them reduce the cost of labor contracts in their districts."

(Kinzel) Senate President Peter Shumlin is one of 5 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.   He thinks it’s wrong to put new restrictions on local school spending:

(Shumlin) "Let’s call an end to the division and the rancor that we direct towards our local communities and towards our school boards. And let’s put an end to the suggestion that when Montpelier reduces the money that we send back to local communities to educate our children that that somehow is going to drive down property taxes. It’s not."

(Kinzel) And Shumlin argues that a number of school districts are doing a good job dealing with this issue without further oversight from the state:

(Shumlin) "90 of our communities last year in Vermont reduced their school spending. They level funded their school budgets… These school boards are doing everything they can to reduce spending and we should, in Montpelier, be providing them with the tools to help them keep doing that instead of attacking them for the work that they’re doing."

(Kinzel) Douglas is expected to outline the specific details of his new property tax initiative next month during his State of the State address.

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

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