Gov. Candidates Disagree On Property Tax Reform
Vermont’s candidates for governor are offering very different solutions to the problem of rising education property taxes.
In a number of communities, property tax burdens have increased more than 25 percent over the past three years. Another round of hikes is expected this winter.
There are a number of reasons why this happening. Over the past decade, many towns have seen a significant drop in student enrollment without a corresponding reduction in their budgets. This development has resulted in higher per student expenses, a key driver of the statewide property tax rate.
"Schools will start to compete for those children and the dollars, and I think that will drive down costs." - Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano
In addition, the grand list in many communities has been slow to recover from the recession.
Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano wants to implement full school choice in Vermont. Under his plan, parents would get a voucher that could be used at any school in the state. He’s convinced this approach will be good for students and help keep costs under control.
“I think by doing so and providing school choice, allowing parents to have school choice, parents and children will have a choice about where to go to school,” said Feliciano. “And in turn schools will start to compete for those children and the dollars, and I think that will drive down costs.”
Republican Scott Milne has proposed freezing the statewide property tax rate for the next two years. It’s likely that this plan would put a lot of pressure on local school budgets.
Milne thinks the chaos caused by this approach means that lawmakers will have to address this issue this winter.
“To force legislators to be accountable,” said Milne. “And what they are going to do to fundamentally restructure education so that we have a predictable connection between increase in costs in education and increased property taxes which does not exist now for many, many communities in Vermont.”
"We cannot sustain property tax increases that are reflecting the local spending decisions that are being made across the state." - Gov. Peter Shumlin
Gov. Peter Shumlin isn’t seeking a major overhaul of the current school financing system. Instead, he wants to work directly with smaller school districts to make certain that they understand the difficult budgetary issues they’ll face if they don’t choose to merge with neighboring districts.
“We have a spending problem. We cannot sustain property tax increases that are reflecting the local spending decisions that are being made across the state,” said Shumlin. “We want to partner with you because decisions should be made locally on this to help find a way to right the ship. And we’re going to do that community by community.”
The House this year passed legislation that gave smaller school districts four years to consolidate their operations but the measure was not adopted by the Senate.
Shumlin opposes this mandatory approach because he believes that the consolidation of school districts must be voluntary if the merger is going to be successful.