House Republicans renew call to replace Act 68

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(Host) House Republican leaders are renewing their call to replace Act 68, the state’s education funding law.

House Minority leader Steve Adams says major changes are needed because the state is facing a property tax crisis.

Adams says his group doesn’t have a specific plan to replace Act 68.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) During the 2006 campaign, many statewide and legislative candidates identified property tax reform as the most pressing issue facing the state.

Republicans generally backed a plan to repeal Act 68 while many Democrats supported an approach to allow more Vermonters to pay their property taxes based on their income rather than the value of their property.

House Minority leader Steve Adams says the top priority for his caucus is the repeal of Act 68. The Republicans don’t think it’s fair to require property wealthy towns to share all of their financial resources with the rest of the state.

(Adams) “We have to admit we do have a crisis. We still believe that there are some here in the Statehouse who don’t believe that we have a problem with property taxes. We believe its time to stop tinkering and start focusing on the problem.”

(Kinzel) Adams doesn’t have a specific replacement plan. He says all options should be on the table although Governor Jim Douglas says he won’t support shifting property tax burdens to any other statewide tax.

House Minority Whip, Patti Komline says the state should define what constitutes a core education and then provide the money to pay for these services. Any additional non-essential services would be financed by local communities.

Komlime also says the time has come to consider closing some of Vermont’s smaller schools.

(Komline) “We need to look at what’s best for those students not what’s best for a few parents who want to keep the school open. Somebody had mentioned in a meeting that I heard, that what they do for military bases where you establish a commission and they determine what bases need to close. Because no politician is going to be able to say, yes the school in my district should close.’ But we need to consider closing schools that are very small.”

(Kinzel) House Speaker Gaye Symington says examining the factors that are driving local school budgets up is one of her top priorities. But she says she’s not going to throw out the basic equity provisions of Act 68.

Symington says if the Republicans want to overturn Act 68, it’s time for them to offer a plan.

(Symington) “They’ve been saying that we need to get rid of the current system for quite awhile. But they are not saying what to put in its place. It’s time to talk about concrete ideas about what to put in its place. And that’s what we’re looking for. And I think that to pretend or imply that there’s a golden goose out there that we’re going to find by simply throwing out what we have, is irresponsible.”

(Kinzel) Symington says she also doesn’t care for the idea of having the state determine if smaller schools should be closed.

(Symington) “It also has to do with the identity of the school and the role that the school plays. As long as folks are willing to make those choices locally and pay the extra freight that may come along with running that small, usually elementary school, I think that’s a decision I would trust Vermonters to make.”

(Kinzel) Symington says she also wants the House Education committee to examine if there are any opportunities for the state to help local school boards reduce some of their operating costs.

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

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