Framework of issues to limit propery tax rate increase agreed upon

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic leaders at the Statehouse have reached an agreement on a framework of issues that are designed to limit future increases in property tax rates.

The basic goal of the initiative is to find effective ways to help control education spending.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the past few weeks, the Democrats and the governor have been negotiating which items to include on the list and a general timetable for action.

The list contains roughly 15 proposals that will now be reviewed by a number of legislative committees.

In releasing the list, Governor Douglas, House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate president pro tem Peter Shumlin, made it very clear that they all don’t support every item but they do agree all the issues should be reviewed.

The list includes a consolidation of school districts, a general cap on local school spending, new penalties to discourage towns from spending well above the statewide per pupil average and modifications to the common level of appraisal.

The governor says the agreement is a good starting point to reduce property tax burdens:

(Douglas) “We’ve got a document that outlines some ideas for consideration by the relevant communities of the General Assembly. And it’s our hope that this will be done as promptly as possible, that these ideas will considered seriously and that we can enact some meaningful reform this year, with some additional progress to be made in the second year of the biennium.”

(Kinzel) Senate president Shumlin says it’s critical to realize that unlike previous school funding reforms, there’s no pot of money that can be used this year to lower property tax burdens.

(Shumlin) “Every time this building has dealt with a problem in education funding we’ve had resources to raise from some Vermonters and send to other Vermonters we do not have that luxury this time there is no more tax capacity in Vermont to raise from Vermonters to send back to communities we’re unanimous in recognizing that it’s a spending problem.”

(Kinzel) House Speaker Symington says one of her goals is to implement reforms for people who qualify for the income sensitive provisions of Act 68. Approximately 75% of all households participate in this program.

She wants to make it clear to this group of Vermonters that if local spending goes up, so does their tax burden.

(Symington) “I don’t think it’s off the table to discuss. For one thing the existing income sensitivity provisions in current law, I wouldn’t want to compromise or I’d be reluctant to compromise. But I think what we’re talking about is making them more clear more straightforward. And that helps people understand that the more they spend the more they pay in taxes.”

The agreement also calls for a study to determine if there’s a way to exempt working farms from the statewide property tax for education.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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