House, Senate Negotiate on Act 60 Sharing Pool

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(Host) House and Senate negotiators began work on a compromise Act 60 reform plan on Monday. The future of the "sharing pool" of Act 60 is the largest issue separating the two chambers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) One of the biggest challenges facing lawmakers in these final weeks of the session is finding a compromise on legislation that makes some key changes to Act 60, the state’s education financing law.

House and Senate negotiators on Monday afternoon acknowledged that they agree on a wide range of alterations to Act 60. These include:

– a substantial increase in the statewide property tax in order to boost the per student block grant

– maintaining the current system of income sensitivity

– creating a reserve in the education fund

– and authorizing Vermont to join the Powerball national lottery game.

But they strongly disagree on what should happen to the sharing pool of Act 60. The House wants to eliminate it; the Senate wants to keep it but would reduce the number of towns that would be subject to it. The Senate feels that eliminating the sharing pool will undermine the equity provisions of Act 60.

Senate Finance Chairman Peter Shumlin, who heads up the Senate’s conference committee group, addressed issue at a meeting with House negotiators on Monday afternoon:

(Shumlin) "To put in succinctly, clearly the only things that is dividing us, it seems to be is the issue of how to deal with sharing, and we’re very anxious to get a bill. As you know, the bottom line for us I think is we don’t want to pass a bill that will send us back to court."

(Kinzel) House Ways and Means Chairman Dick Marron, who is the lead negotiator for the House conference committee, argues that it’s fair to eliminate the sharing pool because raising the statewide property tax will lead to a lot of revenue sharing on the part of property wealthy communities:

(Marron) "So we’ve got substantial equity by – in our proposal actually by raising the statewide property tax and block grant more than yours gets that much equity, more equity at the base level."

(Kinzel) The House plan calls for penalties if a community spends more than 150% of the block grant amount per student. Under the House proposal, this provision would kick in when a town spends more than $10,500 per student. House conferees have agreed to submit a new plan to deal with above block spending at a meeting on Tuesday.

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

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