Organization shares goals with lawmakers on education funding

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(Host) The head of an organization that wants to repeal Act 60 says his group shares many goals with a coalition of lawmakers who strongly oppose efforts to do away with Vermont’s current system of funding education.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Hartland Rep. Steve Adams is the lead spokesperson of an organization known as “Revolt and Repeal.” It’s a group of mostly Republican legislators who think the best way to put pressure on the Legislature to address property tax reform is to repeal Act 60 beginning in 2009.

Democratic leaders oppose the repeal approach. They argue they already support efforts to reform the current property tax system. They want to modify Act 60 without eliminating the equity provisions that were mandated by the Vermont Supreme Court in the Brigham decision.

While the groups disagree on the repeal issue, Adams says they do agree on the need to shift property tax burdens over to a broad based tax like the income tax and he says both groups want to adopt new cost containment measures:

(Adams) “That is the case. One of our missions was to get all legislators to agree that there was a property tax crisis here in the state of Vermont and I think we’ve accomplished that goal. And now we’re all singing the same tune – that Vermonters are in the midst of a property tax crisis.”

(Kinzel) Shifting tax burdens is also a key priority for the House Ways and Means committee. Chairman Michael Obuchowski says his panel wants to look at a plan that would allow more Vermonters to pay their school property taxes based on their income and not the value of their property.

At the same he’s says it’s critical to maintain a statewide property tax for non residential property:

(Obuchowski) “To give our system some stability we need some property tax in the mix. But I think it’s safe to say that the committee is open to any and all approaches at this time. However, we have been spending a lot of time on this income approach.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he’ll oppose efforts to transfer tax burdens from the property tax to the income tax. Douglas says he’s concerned that a higher income tax rate could hurt economic development efforts in the future.

Rep. Bud Otterman is the Republican Vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He thinks the governor needs to look at this issue in a different way:

(Otterman) “The governor sees this as an income tax increase on top of the 9 % or whatever it is we’ve got now. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a substitution of an income based tax system in place of a property tax system.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has proposed a 1 % income tax surcharge to help lower school property taxes. The League estimates that the statewide property tax rate could be cut by two thirds if their plan is adopted by the Legislature.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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