Scott signs school funding bill but says it won’t solve Vermont’s property tax problem

By LISA RATHKE

Associated Press

Published: 02-23-2024 4:58 PM

Vermont schools can now postpone their March school budget votes and rewrite their spending plans after Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill into law on Thursday aimed at addressing soaring property tax increases, largely driven by rising education spending.

However, it’s not clear how many school districts will take that step less than two weeks before Town Meeting Day voting. Property taxes are projected to rise an average of $18.5%.

The governor warned that the legislation, which also removes a tax cap instituted by legislation passed two years ago aimed at making education more equitable, does not solve the property tax problem.

“These changes will only reduce rates if school boards adjust their budgets accordingly and local voters support those changes,” the governor wrote to lawmakers. “It’s also important to note the projected spending increase this year is $243 million, so even if every single school board makes adjustments to their budget, we’re unlikely to avoid significant property tax increases.”

When the Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, senators acknowledged that this is just the first step.

“Once we fix this, we still have schools that are spending at an unprecedented rate, increasing spending and it’s unsustainable,” Sen. Ann Cummings, a Democrat, told Senate colleagues. “If school budgets pass there will be some severe consequences for people who can’t afford their taxes.”

The law includes a $500,000 appropriation for towns to use for printing and warning constituents about these looming school budget votes.

“Some schools may move forward and let the voters decide and maybe the vote will be passed or maybe not,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel, a Democrat representing Caledonia County. “Some districts have gone back and sort of scrubbed their proposed budget.”

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Scott, a Republican, wrote in a letter to legislators that when he signed the student weighting formula bill in 2022, he called on the legislature to address the cost pressures it added and avoid adding more before the formula took effect.

“Had the Legislature worked with me to do so, we would all be in a better place today,” he wrote.