Douglas says state still faces property tax crisis

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says Vermont still faces a property tax crisis even though most local communities passed their school budgets on Town Meeting Day.

Douglas says the small number of defeats is not a barometer of public sentiment on this issue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Over the past 12 years, on average, 23 towns have defeated their school budgets on Town Meeting Day. So it came as a surprise to some officials that just 17 budgets were rejected this year. It’s exactly the same number as last year.

The Governor has identified property tax reform as his number one legislative issue. He told reporters at his weekly press conference that the number of school budget defeats doesn’t reflect public concern about this issue.

(Douglas) “I don’t read a lot into the numbers to be perfectly honest. Individual Vermonters who go to their Town Meetings and feel very good and strongly about their local schools – but they also understand that in the aggregate the property tax burden in Vermont continues to rise disproportionately.”

(Kinzel) Douglas noted that the average school budget increase this year was roughly 4 % – that’s down from the past few years. The Governor says he still wants lawmakers to pass his cap on local spending to make certain that this trend continues:

(Douglas) “The key is to bend the curve and I’m not sure we should read a lot into one year when over 5 or 6 years we’ve had dramatic increases on the order of magnitude of 6% or more.”

(Kinzel) The governor also says he’s intrigued by a proposal being developed at the Statehouse to discourage towns from spending considerably above the statewide average.

The penalty provision kicks in if spending levels exceed the average by more than 25%. One proposal would lower the threshold to 15%.

(Douglas) “My concern is whether the reduction in the penalty cap from 125 to 115 will result in a significant enough savings statewide to make a real difference.”

(Kinzel) Senate Education Chairman Don Collins is a strong supporter of this approach because he thinks it will affect future spending decisions.

(Collins) “That message has gone out there and school board members clearly understand that they don’t want to bump up against those caps. I have talked to school board members who have said as we approach those excess spending provisions we really said we have to pull back.”

(Kinzel) Both the Senate and House Education committees are expected to include a variation of this plan as part of an overall proposal to help reduce education expenses.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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