Senate leader says he’s not interested in repealing two-vote budget law

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(Host) The Vermont House wants to get rid of a law that would require high-spending towns to vote twice on their school budgets. But the proposal faces a tough future in the Senate.

That’s because Senate Education Chairman Don Collins thinks the two-vote approach will be an effective way to help contain costs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The two-vote budget plan was adopted by lawmakers in the final days of the 2007 session and it doesn’t go into effect until next year.

There are two criteria that trigger the new law. First, a town must spend more than the statewide average per pupil. And, second, the proposed budget increase must be larger than the rate of inflation, plus one percent.

If both of these provisions are met, the law calls for two ballot items to be presented to local voters. The first represents the base budget of inflation plus one percent; the second represents all spending above this amount.

Earlier this year, the House voted to repeal the law and replace it with an expansion of the current system that penalizes high spending towns.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, House Education Chairwoman Janet Ancel said she supported the repeal because she’s worried that voters will be confused with the two vote system.

(Ancel) “We were risking having school budgets go down because the information that we were presenting was confusing. We went back to the question of cost containment, the thresholds. It’s a system that’s been in place for a few years. It seems to have worked because the rate of increase in spending has gone down during that period of time."

(Host) Last year, Senate Education Chairman Don Collins supported the House’s approach. But he now thinks the two-vote law is a good idea and he’s reluctant to ditch it before it has a chance to go into effect.

(Collins) “So, I just think that the two-vote provision is much more preferable to empowering local citizens and decide what they want to spend on schools. Because if the voters vote it, with the school board members explaining it, and convincing them there’s no penalty, there is no involvement from the state saying, `If you do this, local people, we’re going to, as it’s interpreted, punish you.’"

(Kinzel) Next week, the House Education Committee will review a new Senate plan that eliminates the state Board of Education, elevates the department to agency status and allows the governor to directly appoint the commissioner.

House Education Chairwoman Ancel says she likes the idea of creating a stronger link between a governor and the commissioner of education. But she says she’s not certain if it’s a good idea to eliminate the State Board of Education at this time.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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