Editorial, Legislative Report

Veto Session, School Property Taxes

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by Rep. Avram Patt

WORCESTER – I will be wrapping up my last term with two reports about the historically unprecedented number of bills vetoed by Governor Scott, in this session as well as in his entire time in office.

The Governor vetoed eight bills just this year. Six of those vetoes were overridden by two-thirds votes of the House and Senate. Descriptions of all these bills can be found in numerous press reports available online.

The bill that got the most attention, caused the most concern, and unfortunately was the subject of much misinformation, was the “Yield Bill,” H.887. This is an annual and detailed process by which the Legislature determines how much revenue, in total, is needed to support our schools from that portion of our property taxes collected for this purpose. Since the school portion of our property tax bills is by far the largest, this has a big impact on all of us, legislators included. It is part of a complex process involving state agencies and the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, and information provided by Vermont’s school districts themselves.

The primary purpose of the State’s involvement, including the Legislature’s, is to assure fairness and equity across the state in the quality of education our students get, regardless of the income levels of residents and property values in their communities.

Getting this right is difficult and as things change, has been subject to reworking. That will certainly be happening again going forward. It is important to understand that the Legislature’s process begins with a report issued, by law, each year at the beginning of December, including information provided by the school districts themselves about their preliminary projected costs for the coming fiscal year.

That report, which was a top news story last December, predicted the need for increased revenue for schools statewide for FY 2025 of 18.5% on average, with the guess that it could go higher.

The Yield Bill as passed by the House and Senate brought that down to 13.8% statewide, with actual numbers varying locally. Some relatively small new tax sources were added to lessen the demand on property taxes.

School boards made difficult cuts and there were multiple local budget revotes. This year’s Yield Bill addressed measures that could be accomplished responsibly in the very limited time available.

Governor Scott in the end, resorted to harsh, unprecedented language in attacking the great majority who both voted for the bill and then to override his veto.

He and his administration failed to offer responsible alternatives, only to propose, at the eleventh hour with no time for responsible review and consideration, a “plan” whose provisions included elimination of entire programs, relying on one-time funding sources with no alternatives beyond that and draining reserve funds, which, as the State Treasurer pointed out, would threaten the State’s credit rating for bonding.

In my next report, I will discuss two bills that the committee I’ve served on did much of the work on.

Avram Patt represents the Lamoille-Washington District, Morristown, Elmore, Woodbury, Worcester and northern Stowe.

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