Opinion
September 25, 2014

Dan Feliciano: Informed parental choice is the answer to school property tax rates

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Dan Feliciano, who is the candidate for governor for the Vermont Libertarian Party. He is a business consultant who lives in Essex Junction.

Thousands of Vermonters are looking at their school property tax bills and wondering “where will this end?”

They are finding out the hard way that the Democratic Legislature and governor have increased the base homestead school property tax rate by 14 percent in just the past four years – even as the number of public school pupils is dropping by a thousand a year.

The Democrats addressed this issue in April. Their House approved a bill that raised the rates again, and also declared their intention to finance education through a new income tax beginning in 2017 (H.889, Sec. 23). The Senate sidetracked the House bill (except for raising the rates), obviously not wanting to endorse that proposition in an election year. But I give the House Democrats credit for boldly letting the people know what the Democrats have in store for them.

The Republicans have supported a meaningless measure to abolish Act 60 in 2017, and hope that somebody comes up with a better idea. The Republican candidate for governor, groping hard for any kind of an idea, came up with freezing homestead school property tax rates for two years.

I seriously doubt that the Republican candidate for governor has any idea of what would happen if the Legislature bought his simplistic proposal.

Here’s what would happen. The voters of the state’s school districts would vote higher budgets, as always. The Education Fund is obliged to cover those budgets. The ed fund relies on homestead and non-residential property taxes to raise the final contribution to filling the pot.

The real solution lies in giving informed parents the power to choose the education they want for their children from a wide range of educational providers – many of whom will meet their customers’ needs at less cost than the overgrown government-run system we now have.

If assessments do not increase, and if there is no unlikely boom in sales tax and lottery receipts, the Ed Fund won’t have enough dollars to cover the budgets. Then what?

Unless the tooth fairy wanders by and leaves millions of dollars under the ed fund pillow, the Agency of Education will have to inform school districts that there isn’t enough to go around. What happens then is not provided for in the law.

Would the agency say, “We’ll pay 100 percent of the budgets that haven’t increased by more than two percent over last year, and districts with budgets over that are on their own”? Note that under Act 60 districts can’t raise and spend their own revenues to make up any shortfall.

A homestead property tax rate freeze, in the face of an almost certain increase coming from the Democratic Legislature next year, has some political appeal. But it is no kind of “solution.” If adopted, which it won’t be, it would be necessary either to raise other taxes or transfers to pump up the Education Fund, or give the Secretary of Education the unprecedented power to ration available revenues, like the Green Mountain Care Board under single payer.

The real solution lies in giving informed parents the power to choose the education they want for their children from a wide range of educational providers – many of whom will meet their customers’ needs at less cost than the overgrown government-run system we now have.

Vermont led the way in expanding parental choice with its tuitioning act of 1869. We should now lead the way toward becoming a dynamic, innovative, customer-focused land of educational opportunity for all children.

That will be disruptive. That will inspire fierce resistance from the government educational establishment, whose school districts would find themselves competing for revenues from parents who are free to choose, instead of coercing tax dollars to finance a government monopoly.

That would be controversial. It will drive the Vermont-NEA teachers union into hysterics. But it’s not simplistic and it’s not foolish.

It will be a boon for Vermont’s children, and properly designed, it will at last promise to put the brakes on the annual property tax rate increases inevitably required by the $1.5 billion government school monopoly.

Share This Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *