The Time to Lead is Now

As Vermonters throughout the state prepare to vote on their local school budgets on Town Meeting Day, they also face another significant property tax increase in doing so. To pay for the projected increase in education spending statewide, the Vermont House of Representatives recently voted to increase the statewide property tax rate by approximately 5% in Fiscal Year 2014.

While that is troublesome enough, the real story is the overall two-year projected increase. As student enrollment continues its steady decline, the increase in education spending over the next two years is projected to be $150 million (an 11% increase). This will result in an increase in the property tax rates of 11 cents (residential) and 12 cents (non-residential) by FY 2015.

Indeed, the tax increase called for in this bill is mainly a result of the projected local spending decisions. But the fact is, the situation in which we now find ourselves is a direct result of our repeated failure in Montpelier to address the underlying problem of the funding system. Year after year, we have watched as property taxes on Vermonters have escalated and the system becomes more and more unsustainable. Yet, we have merely picked around the edges of Act 60/68 to make minor adjustments.

The time for minor adjustments is over. And the time for placing the blame on school boards and local communities is over. It's time for Montpelier to stand up and show some leadership. We put the system into place and we should take responsibility for the fact that it is broken and needs to be reformed.

The Vermont House had an opportunity to do just that, when I put forward an amendment that would have required an actual commitment on our part. It would have required that a new education funding system be developed and in place for the 2015-2016 academic year.

While the proposal seemed to have solid support initially, unfortunately, the legislative majority balked once again. Instead of a commitment to reforming the system for the 2015-2016 academic year, we now await yet another report to be published next year.

Make no mistake, my proposal was a thoughtful proposal. It was a proposal that took into consideration the time required to bring stakeholders and people of all political stripes together to develop a better system - a system that would provide for greater opportunities for our children and better educational outcomes, at a price and in a way Vermonters can afford.

The General Assembly would have had this entire biennium - two years - to develop such a proposal. And, if legislation was put into place by June 30, 2014, our state would have had an entire year to transition to the new system come July 1, 2015.

Vermonters are struggling and asking Montpelier to do something. They deserve action on our part, and instead are getting the runaround.

So as Vermonters head to Town Meeting Day, I encourage them to take this opportunity to inquire of their legislators where they stood on this issue last week. Did your representative support ensuring a real reform takes place, or did he/she vote simply to require another report to be delivered next year?

After all, in order to make real change, people throughout the state must stand up and be heard.

Heidi E. Scheuermann is a state representative from Stowe


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