GOP Caucus Seeks Consensus on Act 60 Reforms

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(Host) This could be a key week concerning efforts by House Republicans to make changes to Act 60.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, finding consensus in the GOP caucus for any major change is proving to be a difficult task.

(Kinzel) When Republicans gained control of the Vermont House in January of 2001, making alterations to Act 60, the state’s education funding plan, was a top priority for the GOP caucus. But midway through the second year of the biennium, no plan has emerged from the House Ways and Means Committee.

Over the past 15 months, Committee Chairman Dick Marron has floated out two different proposals but neither one has attracted very much support within the GOP caucus.

The first would raise the statewide property tax, eliminate the sharing pool and limit income sensitivity on local education spending. The second would raise the state sales tax from 5% to 6% to achieve many of the goals of the first plan.

Marron started this session urging members to consider the plan to raise the statewide property tax rate. When this proposal got a very lukewarm reception, he dusted off his sales tax plan and suggested expanding the base of the sales tax to include some professional services:

(Marron) “I’m trying to put some ideas out there and show people what some of the alternatives are, some of the different ways of ¿. On the one hand, if you put more revenues from broad based state taxes other than the property tax, you reduce the reliance on the property tax. That’s an objective that I have had and a lot of other folks have had but there’s got to be a will to support the other taxes to replace the property tax.”

(Kinzel) House Democratic Leader John Tracy says the Republicans are finding out that it is much easier to criticize Act 60 than it is to change it.

Tracy thinks it makes no sense at all to boost the sales tax so that wealthy towns will no longer be subject to the sharing pool:

(Tracy) “And those would be all Vermonters paying that extra money. If it’s redistributed to all Vermonters that’s fine, but follow the money see where the money is going to go and if it’s going to a certain segment of the population or businesses or whatever it is, if it’s not equal then it is something that won’t pass the straight face test.”

(Kinzel) Marron is hoping that a majority of members of the GOP caucus will back one of his two proposals. If they don’t, Marron says it will be very difficult to bring an Act 60 bill to the House floor for a vote this year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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