Symington pledging to restore money to Education Fund

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(Host): House Speaker Gaye Symington is pledging to restore millions of dollars to the state Education Fund.

It’s estimated that the Fund has been shortchanged by as much as $25 million in the last two years.

If the money is restored, Vermont’s statewide property tax could be reduced by roughly 4%.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the past two years, state budgets have been passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jim Douglas that failed to meet the legal obligations of Act 68.

The law requires that the General Fund contribution to the Education Fund increase at the same growth rate as the overall state budget.

The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office estimates that the Education Fund has been shortchanged by roughly $25 million over the past two years. If the proper payments had been made, Vermont’s statewide property tax rate for education could have been reduced by 4%.

House Speaker Gaye Symington became the first leader on Friday to publicly pledge that the money will be restored to the Education Fund.

(Symington) “It’s my intention to make good on the amount of funds that were shortchanged to the Education Fund over the last couple of years. And I don’t yet know exactly how we’re going to do that. But that’s the work that I’m involved in at the moment.”

(Kinzel) Symington has requested a detailed study to determine the size of the shortfall because there are a number of factors in evaluating the base spending level of the state budget.

(Symington) “Now that this discrepancy has come up we want to understand what level is that discrepancy. Yesterday I heard 3 very different numbers. I heard $14 million. I heard $25 million and I heard 40 million. So I want to understand what is the actual number. And clearly we have to figure out how we’re going to make good on that.”

(Kinzel) The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has been urging lawmakers to restore the funds to help lower the statewide property tax rate.

VLCT executive director Steve Jeffrey says the Speaker’s commitment is good news:

(Jeffrey) “To follow through with this responsibility, to admit that this was something that was necessary to do I think is a big move. And I understand that it’s a difficult move to make at this time. But on the other hand, property taxpayers did pay more than what they would have had to pay otherwise. So I think it’s the appropriate action at this time.”

(Kinzel) The House was set to consider its 2007 Budget Adjustment Act next week. But Symington says consideration of the plan will be postponed until the shortfall issue is resolved.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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