Parker says spending cap will hurt education quality

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(Host) Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scudder Parker says Governor Douglas’s plan to cap local education spending will hurt the quality of education in many communities.

Douglas insists that the cap is needed to help reduce property tax burdens throughout Vermont.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas and Parker made their comments at a debate sponsored by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The League has identified property tax reform as its number one priority for statewide and legislative races.

Douglas is backing a plan to impose a 3 % cap on local school spending as a way to limit future property tax increases. Under the proposal, the cap could be exceeded only if 60 % of local voters support the higher amount.

Parker opposes the cap because he says it doesn’t address the real factors driving up school budgets such as higher health care and energy costs and rising special education expenses:

(Parker) “And would affect communities negatively in their ability to respond to the needs and the demands that they have at the local level, many of those imposed by actions at the federal and state level and it in fact might damage the quality of education substantially.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says the cap is needed because school spending has been rising faster than inflation for a number of years:

(Douglas) “The cost of property taxes should not rise any faster than the paychecks of Vermonters who have to foot the bill. And I believe that the sustainable rate of increase that this cap would provide is very very reasonable.”

(Kinzel) Douglas also criticized Parker for his willingness to support an increase in the state gas tax. The plan was part of an effort to help the state generate revenue to match newly available federal transportation money.

(Douglas) “I was very pleased that senators of both parties joined with me to saying no’ at a time when gas prices are outrageously high to impose a further burden on the people of Vermont would have been unreasonable.”

(Kinzel) Parker was very critical of Douglas’s original transportation plan that called for the transfer of more than $15 million from the state’s Education Fund to the Transportation Fund:

(Parker) “I will not propose or support the raiding of the Education Fund for other services and other programs. The Governor has been very strident in his concern about the increase in the gas tax but he didn’t show the same level of concern for raiding the Education Fund.”

(Kinzel) Both candidates said they’re reluctant to support a plan that would allow any town in the state to impose a local option tax as a way to help reduce municipal property tax rates.

Currently, only towns significantly affected by the imposition of the statewide property tax are eligible to have voters consider local option taxes.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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