Property tax reform has become a key issue in the race for lieutenant governor. Although the two leading candidates have very different plans to reduce tax burdens on the middle class, they both see an expanded role for state government in education funding.
Republican incumbent Phil Scott and his Progressive and Democratic challenger Dean Corren do agree on one thing: Many middle class families are getting hammered by higher property tax burdens.
In the past three years, a number of communities have seen their tax burdens go up by as much as 25 percent. This is largely due to declining enrollment and budget growth.
Phil Scott thinks Vermont has a school spending problem. He wants to create a state education board that would be modeled after the Green Mountain Health Care Board, which regulates health care spending. The mission of the education board would be to examine ways to lower costs.
“And I thought, maybe what we need to do is take the politics out of this and create this Green Mountain Education Board,” said Scott. “[The board] would work in partnership with school boards and supervisory unions ... trying to provide a great education at a cost we can afford.”
Scott says this new board could review school budgets that increase faster than the statewide average. He thinks the panel might also work to create a regional or a statewide teachers contract.
“I think that they would have to have some authority, some power,” said Scott. “Because if we just do something to make people feel good, and we’re going to ask them to go out there and take a look, it just buys you time it just kicks the can down the road.”
Dean Corren wants to reduce tax burdens on middle class families by expanding a program known as income sensitivity. It allows households with incomes under $90,000 to pay their school taxes based on their income and not the value of their property.
While some Democrats want to increase this cap to $120,000, Corren wants to get rid of it completely.
“Instead of raising the cap to some arbitrary number, eliminate the cap altogether and everyone can pay fairly under the same system,” said Corren. “And that will take the pressure off of the middle class. And it will make everyone aware when they pass a school budget what the effect will be on them.”
Corren would help pay for this change by increasing the non-residential rate paid by second homeowners and businesses.
“That should be done so that we don’t have a situation where we have right now, after several years of Act 68, where we now have residential property taxpayers paying a much higher rate and all of the increases go onto them as opposed to second homeowners,” said Corren.
In the past month, legislative leaders from all three political parties have identified property tax reform as the top issue for the 2015 session. But it’s not clear if they’ll be able to agree on a new approach.