By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon Education funding
Leadership in the Vermont House made it a priority earlier this session to address the way we fund K-12 education. The current system, which was born out of Act 60 about 20 years ago and later amended with Act 68, when the sales tax was increased to 6 percent, is confusing. Many believe there is a disconnect between spending and property taxes when an estimated 70 percent of Vermont households are getting some type of income sensitivity and don’t see the full impact of approved budgets. Throw in a statewide yield formula and CLA (common level of appraisal) and per pupil spending where not all students are counted equally, it’s no wonder there are many critics of the current system.
The House Ways & Means Committee has been working nonstop since the beginning of January on changing the funding to one that includes higher income taxes, but with lower residential property taxes. It also throws out income sensitivity reductions so the final result is going to be different for each taxpayer. In the coming weeks, we will get a better picture as to the appetite of the Legislature to tackle this issue before adjournment.
The need for better school safety has emerged as a priority for legislative leaders and the governor in the wake of the horrific shooting in Florida and the threat that was fortunately averted in Fair Haven. The center of the issue is likely to be a debate over guns and what restrictions should the state adopt.
This past week the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation that would allow law enforcement to seize firearms from a person deemed a risk to themselves or others for up to 60 days. When the bill moves to the full Senate this week, there will be proposals for expanding background checks and potentially other restrictions. The issue will then move to the House where I serve.
I suspect most Legislators, as I have, been receiving a wide variety of input from voters in their districts advocating everything from banning guns to not adopting any new restrictions. I will follow the discussions closely and will likely support those changes that make sense and not those that are designed to just score political points. Doing nothing is not an option, nor is just a focus on firearms.
In an effort to keep discussions on a carbon tax alive, the House Natural Resources Committee passed out a bill to spend $100,000 to study the issue some more. H.763 advanced along party lines with Democrats on the committee in support and Republicans opposed. The governor has indicated he does not support a carbon tax nor any bill to spend state money to study carbon taxation.
And perhaps a little like the items on the town meeting agenda where you least expect it, sparks the most debate, the House spent two afternoons last week discussing and amending a bill that bans coyote hunting competitions. H.636 bans organized competitions, which would make Vermont the first state to do so, if enacted. The original proposal could have also put an offender in jail for up to 60 days, something that was eventually taken out on a 75-64 vote (amendment to remove jail time was co-sponsored by Rep. Buckholtz, D-West Hartford. I supported her effort along with Rep Kimbell, D-Woodstock). It is important to note that no license to kill coyotes is required and coyote hunting by individuals or groups of hunters is still legal under the proposed legislation.
I hope to see many of you at the Town Meeting informational sessions in March. You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell. 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. I am also happy to meet district members coming to the State House.