(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed a bill that would have added fees and increased penalties in the state’s current use tax program.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The current use program is designed to keep land in agriculture and forestry. It does that by allowing landowners to pay taxes based on how the property is used – such as growing trees or raising crops – rather than on its higher value for real estate development.
In return, landowners promise to keep their land in production, and they pay a penalty if they withdraw the parcel for development. The bill changed how the penalty is calculated. And it levied a one-time fee of $128 that lawmakers said was needed to reduce a $1.6 million funding shortfall.
The governor strongly objected to both provisions. Jonathan Wood is the secretary of Natural Resources.
(Wood) "This is one of the most important tools we have to protect the working landscape and we’re in one of the most challenging economic times in history for the working landscape, whether you’re a farm land owner or forest land owner. It’s just totally bad timing to start changing a program and changing the taxes associated with it at this time in history."
(Dillon) But Jamey Fidel of the Vermont Natural Resources Council said the bill had broad bipartisan support and met a legislative mandate to save money.
(Fidel) "There were opportunities in this bill to improve the program and put it on strong financial footing moving forward if we want to continue to have lands in current use enrolled."
(Dillon) Chittenden Senator Ginny Lyons was also disappointed in the veto. Lyons chairs the Natural Resources Committee and she says the changes in penalties were designed to prevent landowners from parking land in the program, and then paying only a minor penalty when they withdrew it for development.
(Lyons) "Now folks who are in current use realize the benefit after only 200 days, and the initial program when it was started, the benefit wasn’t realized for five to six years. And we need to maintain that if we’re going to maintain the integrity of the program."
(Dillon) House Speaker Shap Smith said legislative leaders had not decided whether to return to Montpelier and try to override the veto. But he says the governor now needs to spell out how to fill the $1.6 million hole the veto would create in the state budget.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.