An Effort to Limit a Property Tax Increase in Vermont Fizzles | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


An Effort to Limit a Property Tax Increase in Vermont Fizzles


Published June 12, 2024 at 5:21 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference on Tuesday - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference on Tuesday
A last-ditch effort by administration officials to strike a deal with lawmakers to limit impending sharp increases in property taxes fizzled on Wednesday, setting up a showdown between Gov. Phil Scott and the legislature over his veto of a key tax bill.

Scott last week vetoed a controversial education tax bill expected to hike property taxes 13.8 percent for the average homeowner, calling that amount unacceptable.

Democratic lawmakers, who hold a supermajority in the Statehouse, will try to override some or all of Scott’s recent vetoes when the legislature reconvenes on June 17. Scott has said for weeks that he wanted to meet with legislative leaders to hammer out a compromise to protect taxpayers from the impending increases.

“I think average, everyday Vermonters, when they get their property tax bills in July or August, are going to be shocked at the increase,” Scott said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I think we have to do everything we can to bring that down a little bit further.”

He said he hoped a series of measures, including use of budget surpluses, would reduce the increase to 4 or 5 percent.

But when legislative leaders showed up to the Wednesday afternoon meeting in his offices, Scott himself was nowhere to be found, though his top tax, education and finance officials were on hand.

The meeting did not go well. Afterward, legislative leaders blasted Scott’s ideas as irresponsible and his absence as a sign that he wasn’t serious about striking a compromise.

“The Governor has stated that he wanted to work together on this issue, but the fact that he did not show up to this meeting, it is impossible to see this as nothing more than election year politics rather than a true commitment to collaboration,” House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) said in a statement.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden-Central) echoed the message.

“We were led to believe that Governor Scott would be present and engaged at our meeting this afternoon and that he would offer details on a responsible plan to cut property tax rates. Unfortunately, neither turned out to be true,” Baruth said in his statement.

In a press briefing immediately after the meeting, administration officials outlined a series of ideas that they said could reduce the tax burden next year and in future years if lawmakers played ball.

One idea was to eliminate free school meals for kids whose families don’t need assistance, saving about $20 million. Another option was to use the entire $47 million education reserve fund, then pay it back over five years. They also proposed spending an additional $20 million from excess money coming in to state coffers in May and June. Finally, they floated eliminating the $21 million lawmakers set aside to protect low-income residents from the full tax increases, which officials said would no longer be necessary.

The proposal also included a number of ideas for restricting school spending in 2026 and reforming school spending formulas in 2027. “The plan is not without risk or challenge, but the governor believes it is worth it,” said Sarah Clark, the interim secretary of administration. The ideas presented to lawmakers were not the solution to the state’s school funding challenges but rather a path to get there, Clark said.

“It is about trying to keep Vermonters from being crushed by a property tax increase this year and creating a runway to make more strategic reforms for future sustainable growth,” she said.

An idea to loan districts money that they could repay over five years, which was previously panned by lawmakers and Treasurer Mike Pieciak, a Democrat, was not part of the proposal.

But Baruth rejected the latest ideas as fiscally irresponsible and likely to only deepen the tax burdens on property owners in future years.

“His approach would zero out reserves for the Education Fund, eliminate the universal school meals program and use massive amounts of one-time money for ongoing expenses, digging us into a hole that would overwhelm us next year and in the years following,” Baruth said.

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