The House has given its preliminary approval to a $33 million tax bill that's part of an overall plan to reduce the state's $110 million dollar budget gap.
The tax bill survived challenges from the right and the left during a four-hour debate.
There was a lot of drama in the House because it wasn't clear there were enough votes to pass the bill. Many Republicans felt the plan raised too much money while a number of Progressives and liberal Democrats argued it didn't raise enough.
The legislation is targeted at those Vermonters who itemize their income tax deductions. State and local taxes from the previous year will no longer be allowed and overall deductions will be capped at roughly $15,000 for individuals and $31,000 for couples.
Barre City Rep. Paul Poirier backed a plan to boost income tax rates for wealthy people as a way to avoid some painful budget cuts. "I don't look at this as soak it to the rich … This is an opportunity to say, 'we need your help in these tough times so that we can fund some programs that are very important to all of us,'" said Poirier.
Londonderry Rep. Oliver Olsen opposed the amendment because he thinks the state needs to adopt a sustainable spending path. "We're trying to bring our revenues and our spending in line. That's not an easy process,” she said.
The amendment was defeated by roughly a two to one margin. The House then turned its attention to the main bill. Bennington Republican Mary Morrissey urged members to vote against it. "Vermonters have been pleading with us to rein in spending, taxes, and grow our economy that will help support the services and needs of our state,” she said. “It is quite obvious that Vermont does not have revenue problem, it has a spending problem."
Arlington Democrat Cynthia Browning voted against the bill because she says it doesn't go far enough. "I can't support this bill. I don't see the commitment to structural reform that I think Vermonters deserve to see from this body," she said.
House Ways and Means chairwoman Janet Ancel defended the proposal. "In the years that I've been in the Legislature, this is the largest amount of revenue that we've raised for the General Fund … But we think it's a fair way to raise the revenue that we feel is needed to close the budget,” said the chairwoman.
By a vote of 76 to 67, the House advanced the tax bill. It will come up for final approval on Friday.