Local News

Second thoughts

Recognizing that previous legislative action has had unintended consequences on education spending, the House Ways & Means Committee advanced a bill (H.850) on Friday, Feb. 9, to allow school districts more time to redo their budgets (and potentially make cuts) to the proposals they make to voters. The bill, advanced by the committee on a strong 12-0 vote, includes some funding to help towns with the costs of rescheduling school votes.

The legislation removes the 5% cap (the cap initially applied to residential property taxes if a school budget increased 10% or less) on the equalized homestead rate as it is believed that caused some districts to further increase their spending, thinking it was “free” money.

The cap was included in the new pupil weighting bill, Act 127, passed two years ago. However, the new bill does offer some transitional help to districts that got hurt under the changes in Act 127, including two towns in our legislative district. Under the latest proposal, Barstow (Chittenden and Mendon) would receive no reduction in the equalized homestead rate; Mountain Views (Killington) would receive a 1-cent per hundred reduction and Pittsfield an 8-cent reduction. Tax rates will still increase by double digits if proposed spending increases are approved by voters.

"Under the latest proposal, Barstow (Chittenden and Mendon)
would receive no reduction in the equalized homestead rate;
Mountain Views (Killington) would receive a 1-cent per
hundred reduction and Pittsfield an 8-cent reduction."

More changes are likely as the committee considers potential new taxes to help lower rates, but until the state has a better idea of what total spending will be like, it is very hard to determine how much money will be needed (or can pass, politically). Currently, proposed school budgets (before any bonds for new schools) are up an estimated $243 million (up 14.8%), which is a record increase in collective school budgets statewide. And without new revenue, statewide education property tax rates will be up over 20%.

Perhaps another area for second thought involves the annual mid-year budget adjustment bill. The House spent the entire one-time surplus in revenue ($29 million) when it approved the bill a few weeks ago. The Senate, recognizing that the extra funds were already accounted for in the governor’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year, removed much of the extra spending in its version of the bill. They appropriately realized you can’t spend the same money twice without creating a hole in next year’s budget. The spending plan will now need to be negotiated with the House before it heads to the governor.

Other issues of interest:

At his weekly press conference last week, Governor Scott reiterated his call for the Legislature to prioritize regulatory reform to make it easier, less expensive, and faster to build the housing we desperately need. He indicated that some legislative committees were moving in the opposite direction that he believes will make it harder to proceed with new housing. Scott contends that H.687, under consideration by the House Energy & Environment Committee, dramatically increases projects where Act 250 would be automatically triggered. (See related story, on this page.)

The future of a bill to ban flavored tobacco, S.18, is a bit uncertain as it may lower state revenues by as much as $15 million. Given the tight budget year coming up, passage could mean either cuts to other programs or increases in another tax.

Legislation to further increase legislative pay now appears to be on the back burner in a Senate committee given the tighter budget year ahead.

A bill to require 100% renewable energy for Vermont’s electric power needs by 2030, was advanced by the House Energy & Environment Committee. It is unclear how much the legislation will increase electric rates, although the Dept. of Public Service has estimated close to $1 billion if you include the new electric infrastructure necessary for local renewable sources.

The Senate Judiciary Committee appears ready to resume increasing the age of offenders (from 19 to 20) who are referred to family court instead of criminal court, despite objections raised by Governor Scott.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation, H.563, which would make entering another’s auto without the owner’s permission a crime. Under current law, it is not illegal to enter an unlocked vehicle unless you remove materials or steal the vehicle.

 "H.563... would make entering 
another’s auto without the 
owner’s permission a crime."

Last Tuesday I had the distinct privilege of welcoming Stewart Ledbetter to the House Chamber, after spearheading a House resolution to honor him for his 40 years at NBC5 and acknowledging his upcoming retirement.

And now that his schedule will be a bit more open, I couldn’t resist the temptation in my remarks before the House, to publicly invite him to join us as one of our volunteers to help at the American Junior Golf Tournament at Green Mountain National this coming June. Hopefully he won’t have second thoughts…

Jim Harrison is the state representative for Chittenden, Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!