Liberal Lawmakers Want To Tax Rich, Weatherize Homes

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(Host) A group of roughly a dozen lawmakers wants to dramatically increase funds for the state’s weatherization program to help Vermonters deal with rising fuel costs. The program would be financed by increasing taxes on wealthier people.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the plan to raise the income tax faces the strong opposition of Governor Peter Shumlin.

(Kinzel) The plan is endorsed by a group of Progressives, Democrats and Independents. The idea is to add almost $18 million to the state’s home weatherization program. Burlington Progressive Chris Pearson is the lead sponsor of the bill

(Pearson) "We have old wood frame housing by and large in Vermont and they’re charming and many of us love living in our houses but they leak. And so we put money into our furnace and it heats our house and a lot of that heat escapes."

(Kinzel) Pearson says expanding the weatherization program is a good way to reduce energy costs and create as many as 300 new jobs.

(Pearson) "On average it’s shown to save between $600 and $1900 a year and that benefit doesn’t go away after two years this is something that families enjoy in an ongoing way. The problem is it costs money to do this weatherization and folks in this economy don’t have that kind of disposal income necessary to make the investment."

(Kinzel) The legislation calls for higher tax rates for people making more than $209,000 a year. Pearson says that while middle income Vermonters have experienced virtually no income growth over the past ten years, the wealthy have done very well.

(Pearson) "They’ve seen an incredible growth in their income. In the last ten years folks at the very top of the spectrum have enjoyed 50-60-70-80% growth in income – it’s a staggering number. So there is I believe a problem with the equity of our tax structure."

(Kinzel) Governor Shumlin has consistently opposed efforts to raise any statewide taxes. He says he supports weatherization programs but he told Vermonters in his budget address last month that he thinks the state can meet its obligations without additional revenue.

(Shumlin) "Today I present a budget that closes a $51 million shortfall without raising broad based taxes on hard working Vermonters who continue to struggle to make ends meet."

(Kinzel) The measure will now be reviewed by the House Ways and Means committee.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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