The time to act is now
In the weeks leading up to Town Meeting it became clear that Vermont’s Legislature had no intention of making bold changes to the current school funding system. Over a year ago, elected officials knew that this year’s property tax rates were going to be onerously high. We knew we were facing a convergence of conditions that created this tax rate tsunami yet we did nothing.
At that time, in an attempt to address continued concerns from our constituents, Representative Heidi Scheuermann and I tried to get an amendment passed to repeal Act 60/68 in two years. Our proposal was responsible and would have given lawmakers two years to come up with a better system; one that is easier to understand, reconnects voters to their budgets and resulting property tax rates, and at the same time improve educational outcomes, while adhering to the requirements of the Brigham decision. We had some serious alternatives to offer up to begin the work necessary to make these improvements.
Our effort failed and in political maneuverings was replaced by a watered down requirement for "the House Committee on Ways and Means to address concerns regarding education property taxes, including the financing, oversight, and educational outcomes of our current system and shall report its findings to the General assembly by March 15, 2014." We were extremely disappointed, but even more so when we saw that this deadline was approaching and it was clear there is no concerted effort to overhaul the system.
The week before Town Meeting Vermonters from all across the state, were more frustrated than ever with the complexity of Act 60/68 and our ever-increasing taxes. I decided it was time for a new repeal effort. I hoped that by giving voters a voice in our effort we might, this year, succeed in taking the steps necessary to begin to replace our current, complicated, ailing system. Rep. Scheuermann and I began an online petition to Repeal and Replace Act 60/68 by 2016. Within 24 hours we had over 100 supporters. Now, less than two weeks later, we have over 700 Vermonters signed on and support continues to grow.
But we need your help to make it happen. Representative Scheuermann will introduce the Repeal and Replace Amendment when the new property tax bill is brought up for action in the Vermont House of Representatives. This is our chance, as Vermonters, to show that we want action.
Unless the Legislature has their feet held to the fire nothing substantial will get done. The amendment gives those in control the time needed to come up with a new system. Thirty-five school budgets were voted down with an additional 20 to be voted on at a later date. One only needs to look at what happened in Underhill to know we need to do better. Their proposed school budget decreased spending, per-pupil spending decreased and yet their property taxes are set to increase by 14 percent. A week after that budget was voted down no one in Montpelier has any explanation of how to account for this. We need a better way.
Please go to change.org and sign on to our Repeal and Replace Petition at: https://www.change.org/petitions/vermont-state-legislators-support-the-amend ment-to-repeal-and-replace-act-60-68. Also, please contact your State Representative to let them know you want them to vote for this amendment. We can’t do it without you.
Representative Patti Komline represents the Bennington-Rutland-1 Representative District.