As we inch closer to Town Meeting break, more and more legislation has started to trickle out of committees and onto the House floor for action.
Property Taxes - On Thursday (2/21) the House, by voice vote, put its seal of approval on FY 14 base education rates of $0.94 for homesteads and $1.41 for nonresidential properties. This was preceded by a preliminary 96 to 45 roll call vote on Wednesday (Wilson voting with the majority). These rate bumps represent increases of 5 and 6 cents, respectively in base rates. Although these numbers may change somewhat depending upon how school budgets are voted at town meeting, it appears that the average overall school rate may jump by 9 cents. The math behind the uptick in rates is driven largely by increased spending (up $64 million) coupled with a declining student count and shrinking tax base. The one amendment that survived debate on the floor, calls on the House Ways and Means Committee (my committee) to take a fresh look at the whole educational finance system and report back to the General Assembly prior to March 15, 2014.
So how bad is it? The answer to that question really depends on factors tied to how much a school district plans to spend per equalized pupil, and whether a taxpayer owns residential or non-residential property and if he/she qualifies for income sensitivity. And, if property values in a town drop a good deal, boosting the CLA (common level of appraisal), then the actual tax impact may be a lot less pronounced than an elevated rate would suggest at first blush. Based upon the information I've received from the Agency of Education for towns in my district, it appears income sensitized homeowners making $75,000, for instance, will see tax reductions in Manchester (-$15), Arlington (-$60) and Sunderland (-$123), while those in Sandgate will have an increase (+$307). For those homeowners who do not qualify for income sensitivity, it looks like a taxpayer owning a $200,000 home (listed value) will be facing an $8 increase in Manchester, an $80 decrease in Arlington, a $592 increase in Sandgate and a $31 decrease in Sunderland.
Joint Assembly Election - On Thursday morning, a joint assembly of the House and the Senate met to elect a new Adjutant General for the Vermont National Guard, a Sergeant of Arms and three new Trustees for the University of Vermont. Steven Cray of Essex handily beat out three rivals to become the State's new Adjutant. General Cray, a member of the Air Guard, has more than thirty years of service in the National Guard and will be overseeing around four thousand men and women. Francis Brooks, former longtime State Representative from Montpelier retained his position as Sergeant of Arms, managing the State House. And finally, Anne O'Brien of Richmond, Sarah Buxton of Tunbridge and I were elected to six year terms as UVM trustees. Anne, Sarah and I will join six other public trustees on the twenty-five member board overseeing the University. This is a great honor for me; an exceptional public service challenge at an exceptional Vermont institution.
Jeff Wilson is a state representative to the Legislature from Manchester, Arlington, Sandgate and most of Sunderland.