Letter: Act 68: Get the Facts Straight

To the Editor:

Recently Gov. Peter Shumlin went on the stump to criticize Vermont’s education funding law. Specifically, the governor said that property owners who pay taxes based on their incomes are inoculated from increases in school spending and don’t pay their fair share compared with those who don’t qualify for income sensitivity. Unfortunately, the Vermont Press Bureau article that covered the governor’s remarks contained incorrect and misleading information.

The article stated that property taxpayers in households with less than $92,000 in income never pay more than 1.8 percent of that income for property taxes. That is incorrect for two reasons. First, the percentage amount is adjusted by local school spending decisions. When voters increase school budgets beyond the education base amount, the percent of income they pay in property taxes increases proportionally. Hence, all taxpayers have a stake in carefully considering how they vote on school budgets.

Further, income sensitivity provisions only apply to the home and the surrounding two acres. All other acreage is taxed at the nonresidential rate. The same goes for a second home, family cottage or deer camp, however modest that may be.

There is an additional serious error in the Vermont Press Bureau article, which states that non-homestead property owners are increasingly bearing the brunt of school spending increases. Actually, the reverse is the case. During the past several years, the aggregate non-homestead property tax has decreased over 4.5 percent, while homestead property taxes (income sensitized plus other homestead property taxes) have increased by a like amount.

Governor Shumlin is correct that Act 68 deserves a fresh look to bring it up to date with current realities. But we all need to get our facts straight before jumping in feet first.

Rep. Jim Masland, D

Thetford Center