Bait, switch and Act 46
Property taxes are a top voter concern and during the 2014 campaign candidates promised to lower them. However, although tax reduction proposals were in the offing, once elected, legislators did what they've done in the past. They switched focus from funding to governance.
During my eight years in the legislature, I and others pushed for property tax reform while defending small schools, local control and choice. Now, in one biennium, taxes are going up and everything we protected is in jeopardy. Act 46 is the wrong law. Instead of lowering taxes it addresses problems that do not exist, while creating new ones.
The number of school boards is presented as a problem, when really it is a demonstration of Vermont grass roots involvement. The state wants autocratic, top-down control; the towns want democratic diversity.
Consolidation is offered as efficient, but puts small school districts at the mercy of larger ones on matters of choice, curriculum, governance and existence. Complex education funding mechanisms, comprehended by few Vermonters, force voters to make precipitous decisions with limited understanding. Schools with easy decisions to consolidate are given tax breaks at the expense of schools with complicated and difficult choices. Although property taxes are a major concern, even proponents acknowledge that the act is not likely to lower them. While denied publicly, the drive by many for consolidation is to close small schools, which are the life centers of our towns a school official told me, and the souls of our communities a town official said. Little is gained by Act 46 and so much is lost. So, in the 2017 legislature I and others first will push to eliminate homestead education property taxes, to be replaced by income based funding. Residential property taxes will be needed for municipal expenses only.
Then, we will begin to undo the damage, caused by Act 46. While not punishing those districts that, in good faith, moved forward in implementing the law, we will fight for those who have the good sense to resist it.
If you want to be part of the fight, join me.
— John Moran Wardsboro