After Scott Calls For School Budget Cuts, Lawmakers Pitch Alternative

Mar 12, 2018

The Republican governor says the school budgets approved at town meetings last week are too high, and he wants the Legislature to intervene, by requiring districts to reduce spending. But a group of lawmakers say they have a better plan.

Republican Rep. Scott Beck says he appreciates Gov. Phil Scott’s concern about education spending levels in Vermont, and he agrees that Montpelier ought to take steps to bring costs down.

But the St. Johnsbury representative says requiring districts to make cuts to school budgets — that local voters have already approved — is an overreach.

“To at this point in the game," Beck says, "to try to claw back money from districts, it’s just not productive."

Beck says a tax overhaul he’s been working on could bend the cost curve in years to come without directly intervening in local spending decisions.

"We will reconnect Vermont school districts' rate to their spending decisions." — St. Johnsbury Rep. Scott Beck

The proposal would also reduce reliance on the property tax generally, by shifting some of the obligation for paying for public schools onto the income tax.

"The message to me is that we should rely more on income taxes than property taxes." — Rep. David Sharpe

Although voters did have overwhelmingly approved their local school budgets last week, Bristol Rep. David Sharpe says he also thinks it’s true that many people feel their property taxes are too high.

Here’s how he reconciles that contradiction:

“The message to me is that we should rely more on income taxes than property taxes, like most of the rest of the states in the country,” says Sharpe, the Democratic chair of the House Education Committee.

The proposed changes to the funding formula would create an income tax surcharge that would raise about $60 million annually; the money would be used to buy down local property taxes rates.

“I think in all school districts the first year is going to be a reduction in property taxes,” Sharpe says.

Scott’s commissioner of finance, Adam Greshin, says lawmakers’ proposal misses the point.

“I think the governor is more focused on the amount of revenue we collect," says Greshin, "not how we collect it."

The education funding proposal has already been approved by the House Committee on Ways and Means. The House Education Committee will take up the measure this week.

This post was edited at 2:40 p.m. on 3/16/18 to remove an excerpt that mischaracterized Vermont's school funding formula.