School spending cap part of Douglas property tax reform proposal

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says a cap on local school spending will once again be an important part of a property tax reform proposal that he’ll present to lawmakers in January.

Douglas says he plans to stick with that approach, even though lawmakers rejected the plan last session.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says it’s clear that property tax reform is the top priority for the 2007 session and Douglas says it’s critical for the Legislature to consider both the funding of education and ways to control future costs.

That’s why he plans to re-introduce a proposal to cap local school budgets. Under Douglas’s plan, spending would be capped at 4 % in the first year and 3 1/2% in the following years. The cap could be overridden if 60% of local voters support a higher amount.

The governor says he’s not discouraged that the plan received very little support among Democrats and Republicans last winter:

(Douglas) “If I have a good idea and it’s rejected once, I’m not going to just walk away and say I’m never going to offer it again. If it’s something I feel is right for our state then I’m certainly going to continue to propose it. I’m continuing to talk about it because Vermonters think it’s a good idea. Over the last 6 or 8 months as I’ve traveled the state I’ve heard a lot about it. And Vermonters have told me as I’ve campaigned and sought their support that they think the property tax cap makes a lot of sense.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says it really doesn’t matter what school funding system is used if costs aren’t brought under control.

(Douglas) “The bottom line is that it’s a spending problem. We have property taxes rising at double the rate of inflation or more it’s just not affordable for Vermont families.”

(Kinzel) Windham senator Peter Shumlin will serve as the president of the Senate in January after being out of politics for the last 4 years. Shumlin isn’t enthusiastic about the cap but he says everything should be on the table for discussion.

(Shumlin) “I know that there are areas where Democrats are not supposed to go and I know there are areas where Republicans generally don’t go. I’m saying let’s put it all on the table and have an honest discussion about it because the problem is huge. So we’ve really got to go after all the sacred cows. I’ll put mine on the table if everyone else will put theirs on the table.”

(Kinzel) Shumlin says he thinks the factors affecting property tax reform this year are quite from previous sessions:

(Shumlin) “The problem this time is cost. There isn’t some barrel of money there to be discovered that no one has discovered. No one’s going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and say, hey, I’ve got the solution, you’re going to be happy.’ And I think that the governor and the Senate and House have to collaboratively come up with a process where we really look at what’s driving the cost and what we can do to change our system to capture those costs.”

(Kinzel) Shumlin says it will very difficult to pass a meaningful property tax reform plan unless lawmakers and the governor are able to reach a consensus on this issue.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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