Key week for property tax reform efforts

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(Host) This could be a key week for property tax reform efforts at the Statehouse.

Democratic leaders are hoping that Governor Jim Douglas will join them in identifying a number of key issues that need to be studied in the coming weeks.

Without such an agreement, the lawmakers aren’t optimistic that meaningful progress will be reached this year on this issue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The goal of this initiative is to identify and review as many different issues as possible that have a significant impact on the growing cost of education in Vermont. As part of this process, the governor and the Democratic leaders are negotiating a list of what items to study.

The list could include a statewide teacher’s contract, having the state pick up the local share of special education costs, and consolidating school districts.

Senate president pro tem Peter Shumlin says it’s critical to look at all options including proposals that he doesn’t support such as the Governor’s cap on local school spending.

(Shumlin) “And we can say, listen we’re standing before you the Governor the Speaker and myself to tell you that we’ve put together a list of options, choices that the Legislature is going to consider.’ We’re not going to criticize each other. We’re not going to play politics with this. We’re serious about a bipartisan effort to solve this problem. And the question is, can we do that? Can we establish the basic trust between the governor and the democratic legislature to do that? And I think we’ll have the answer to that question soon.”

(Kinzel) Sources close to the negotiations between the Democratic leaders and the governor say there are two major stumbling blocks to the talks.

First, the governor is very reluctant to put any plan to shift property tax burdens to other statewide taxes on the list. Douglas spoke about his concerns late last week.

(Douglas) “It has to be Republicans and Democrats working together to advance an agenda that’s in the best interests of the state, understanding that it may include some ideas that are not universally popular and that’s fine. I do want to work with them. But the key points for me are that we not talk about new or different taxes and that we commit ourselves to getting something done this year.”

(Kinzel) The governor’s call for some action this year concerns the Democratic leaders because they want to develop a comprehensive plan that may include both popular and unpopular ideas.

House Speaker Gaye Symington is disappointed at the pace of the negotiations with the governor:

(Symington) “I’m getting pretty impatient because we’re four weeks into the session and the Education committee has been taking a lot of testimony. And the question is if the governor isn’t willing to be side by aside with us, will we go ahead anyway and do that work? I’m hoping that we can come to an agreement with Governor Douglas to work on these issues together.”

(Kinzel) Democratic leaders say if an agreement can’t be reached by the end of the week, they’ll have to pursue this issue on their own.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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