Fair Haven resident Neil Robinson, the organizer of HO HO HO (Helping Overtaxed Home Owners Help Others), believes property taxes are too high. A 1% Goods and Service Tax under municipal control could reduce or eliminate the property tax, he recommends.
Fair Haven forks over 56.9% of its property taxes to the Slate Valley Supervisory Union to fund education. Former local school board member Robinson, like other property owners, believes that is high enough. He’s got a plan to shift the burden of paying for schools away from the property tax.
According to a recent article by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Vermont had the third highest property tax burden in the nation as measured by percentage of personal income. “As the student population and the Vermont state population continue to decline, something has to be done to stop the hemorrhaging,” Robinson said.
Elected officials recognize the problem of how Vermont funds education.
In a recent press conference, when asked about the subject of education funding, Governor Scott’s press secretary was quoted as saying: “The governor is willing to have a conversation about how we pay for education.” HO HO HO – local Community Action Committee (CAC) on Education Funding – wants to have that conversation with him and the state legislature.
In the January 6 Rutland Herald, Rutland Rep. Larry Cupoli, Vice Chairman of the House Education Committee, stated “I know that’s difficult for communities, but the fact remains that small schools are just chewing up a lot of taxpayer money,” he said.
Apart from school mergers, another potential source of relief for education costs is the weighting study contained within Act 173, which recommends changes to the education funding model to better support districts in low-income areas or those with higher special education needs.
Cupoli underscored his concerns about funding.
With the Vermont Education fund approaching $2 billion, “Property tax payers … not only are they fed up, they just can’t afford to do it anymore,” Cupoli told the Herald.
Vermonters pay the fifth highest “effective real estate tax rate” in the nation. Of rural states, only neighboring New Hampshire, which has no sales tax, pays a higher rate. Wealthier, urban Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey are the other three. The property tax rate is expected to rise by about three percent this year.
The Vermont Supreme Court Case Brigham vs. State determined that “public education is a constitutional obligation of the state, funding of education through locally imposed property taxes is not.”
“In my 69 years, I have only seen taxes go down in Vermont once. I would like to see it happen twice before I pass,” Robinson said.
The HO HO HO plan would be to stop funding education through property taxes and assess a state-wide, 1% consumption tax on all goods and services provided in Vermont. Under that plan, Vermont education would be paid for by everyone who spends money here to fund education, not just property owners.
If that plan is adopted, municipalities could reduce the property tax to the property owner (80% in the case of the Town of Castleton). They could either lower property taxes, or leave them where they are and use the amount normally spent on education to upgrade equipment, infrastructure or put into a rainy day fund for future use. This could also reduce municipalities’ financial dependency on state agencies to fix our roads and bridges, etc.
If everyone could agree with one method of funding to reduce property taxes, Vermonters would have more money in their pockets to spend as they choose: for example, spend in the local economy, make their homes more energy efficient, and/or buy into solar and electric vehicles, Robinson said.
“We believe that the time has come for a paradigm shift in education funding to help impoverished Vermonters recover from the tax burden that so many are experiencing,” Robinson said.
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