Governor, Legislature Debate Taxes and School Funding

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(Host) Governor Howard Dean says it’s up to the Legislature to find the money to increase state education funding. On Thursday, Dean defended his plan to level-fund the state’s block grant to schools.

But the governor also says a tax bill now before the House will raise enough money to boost school funding.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Early next week, towns across Vermont will vote on their school budgets. Lawmakers now are trying to add some predictability to the annual town meeting budget process.

Leaders from both parties say the Legislature will reject Governor Dean’s plan to level-fund the state block grants to schools. Dean’s proposed budget calls for no increase in the block grant, even though the Act 60 school funding law calls for the grants to increase at the rate of inflation.

On Thursday, Dean said that schools would get that inflation increase only if the Legislature passes a tax bill to raise the money.

(Dean) "I think if the House tax bill passes intact that they will have the same block grant with last years, plus the 2.41% – if the House revenue bill passes intact, as it was voted out the Ways and Means Committee¿. If it doesn’t, then I think we have to see. We have to have a balanced budget. That’s what’s going to supply them money to increase the block grant."

(Dillon) On Thursday, the House began debate over the comprehensive new tax bill. The measure is designed to update Vermont’s tax system and make it compatible with changes in federal tax law.

The House debated a controversial provision to reinstate the estate tax at the state level. The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee pleaded with his caucus to approve the new tax. He said the $2 million that the estate tax would raise is desperately needed to fund programs.

Dean also said that lawmakers should support the estate tax portion of the bill. He says he’s working on people in his own party to vote for the measure:

(Dean) "The ways and means tax plan is a very good plan I’m supporting it and I’m trying to get Democratic support for it. That fills the gap and allows us to pay for the block grant at the level at which one might have expected."

(Dillon) With town meeting around the corner, the governor said he can’t give voters any more assurance that the state funding will increase.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

(Host) The House has given approval to rewriting Vermont’s income tax system, and they’ve agreed to maintain a Vermont version of an estate tax.

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