×

Forum, May 12: What’s at Stake in Royalton


Friday, May 11, 2018
McCain’s Wish Speaks Volumes

John McCain is a senior Republican senator who is a man of class, moral character, bravery, toughness, integrity and somebody who has earned the respect of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, as well as the respect from every president, beginning with Ronald Reagan. When such a person states that he does not want the sitting president of his own party to attend his funeral, well, that tells you something about the character of our current president.

Dana Seguin

Lebanon

What’s at Stake in Royalton

On the corner of Safford Street and Alexander Place there is a beautiful brick building built in the 1920s that houses the Royalton Memorial Library. The building used to also house town offices, which moved to a new building across Route 14 where the police department is now also located.

As in any major change, there have been clashes between the entities involved, in this case the Royalton Memorial Library trustees and the Royalton Selectboard. The trustees hired an architect who made a plan for the library. The Selectboard had different ideas and fired the architect and hired its own. According to a Valley News article, the new architect liked the previous architect’s plan.

Groups of young children enthusiastically visit the library for weekly reading groups. Adults attend weekly reading groups. Patrons enjoy taking out books from the library’s collection or ordering books through interlibrary loan. Computers are available, which is great for people who don’t have access to computers in other ways.

One problem faced by the library is that it’s inaccessible to people who can’t climb the stairs. I need a walking stick to get about and can climb the stairs with difficulty, but I don’t know for how long. People with walkers or wheelchairs simply can’t get in at all.

I just hope the Selectboard and the trustees can get together and make this work. It was suggested at a public meeting on May 2 that maybe the new architect could act as marriage counselor. There are a lot of financial issues to be ironed out.

It is a terrific library; long may it flourish.

Alison Gravel

South Royalton

Phil Scott’s Repeat Act

As a former actor once said: “There he goes again.”

We’ve been through this once before. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott did the same thing last year when he dropped a last-minute bombshell proposal to create a statewide teacher health insurance contract. This time he wants an arbitrary reduction in staff-to-student ratios that he says will save $262 million over five years. This gives the Legislature no time for careful consideration. He wants it that way, apparently.

Under Scott’s new plan, property tax rates would hold steady through fiscal year 2024. Property taxpayers gotta love that.

And Scott’s other major proposal will double the pleasure. Scott announced the details on where to find $58 million in “one-time money” to transfer to the education fund, thereby avoiding a 5- to 7-cent property tax rate increase. The money would be paid back over time, mainly by asking schools to reduce staff over the next five years, according to the governor.

The administration claims its proposals would balance out, with the education fund’s operating deficit shrinking from today’s $58 million to nothing in 2023.

But as legislative budget analyst Mark Perrault told a House committee last week, “It’s highly speculative to book savings five years out.”

Is it because Scott thinks it’s good politics? Under his plan, property tax rates would hold steady through fiscal year 2024. Of course that sounds good. But $58 million in one-time funds? Didn’t they do that last year? How did that work out? Just made a big hole to dig out of this year. And here we go again.

And five years? Remember what the country and the federal budget were like five years ago? What happens if the current economic growth ends? Fact is, you can count on Scott’s projections getting derailed.

If he were a true fiscal conservative, Scott would take the opposite tack. As Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson pointed out, using that money to pay down some of the state’s unfunded pension obligations could save taxpayers a lot more money over the next five years. It seems he has stood true fiscal conservatism on its head.

Bill Kuch

Springfield, Vt.

That Gap in Vt. Education Fund

In finding a solution to the $58 million gap in the Vermont Education Fund, it is important to note how changes made during the Shumlin administration led directly to the problem we now face. If no adjustments are made, an increase of more than 5 cents in the statewide school property tax rate will be needed to cover this gap.

The Education Fund was established over 20 years ago to cover the cost of K-12 education. During the administration of Peter Shumlin it was expanded to include new programs or expand funding for other programs for which it was unwilling to raise broad-based taxes. In what amounted to a sleight of hand, the administration, with the Legislature’s approval, simply transferred unrelated programs to the Education Fund. In the upcoming budget year there will be over $40 million in expenditures completely out of the control of school boards. This is a large part of the reason why local school budgets can be increased by less than the rate of inflation but require a significant increase in local school property taxes.

The Shumlin administration also raised the income level at which income sensitivity payments are given by nearly 50 percent, to $147,500. Individual income sensitivity payments are now as high as $8,000. The total amount in income sensitivity payments given out by the state is now over $170 millions. The program has become a bit of a shell game where property taxpayers are faced with a high property tax bill , but then given a payment, so it seems like it is really not that bad.

Since neither the Legislature nor the governor seem willing to move the unrelated spending out of the Education Fund, they should use what state surplus is available and then reduce income-sensitivity payments for those with the most wealth to fill the remaining gap. This would be a fiscally prudent and progressive way to balance revenue with spending. We could finish this legislative session in a timely way and address longer term solutions as part of the election campaign this fall.

John Freitag

South Strafford