Opinion: Education funding system arbitrary

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution provides for equal protection under the law. It is not too much of a stretch of the spirit of the law to suggest that equal application of the law as well is a valid matter. In this regard the current structure of education funding is seriously flawed; the bulk of property owners under Acts 60 and 68 pay taxes based upon income while a distinct minority pay based on property assessments.
Our Legislature has arbitrarily selected $90,000 as the cutoff between the two classes of taxpayers. Those earning less income pay a minimal tax compared to, in most cases, what would be a much higher tax based on the assessments of their real property. This results in the minority of taxpayers earning $90,000 or more picking up the slack.
This situation tends to erode Vermont’s egalitarian social structure creating class tensions. This is not what Vermont is supposed to be about.
Fairness dictates that all taxpayers be judged by the same standard. If family income should become the basis for taxing, then all of us should pay on that standard, albeit based on a reasonable graduated scale. Another approach discussed on a recent VT Digger panel talked about a hybrid standard based both on income and assessments. This seems like a reasonable approach provided ALL taxpayers are subject to the same structure.
More specifically, the $90,000 cutoff for income sensitivity is particularly egregious when considering that the mean family income of Vermonters in 2012 was $53,000. Beyond helping lower-income families this cutoff casts a very wide safety net for the bulk of taxpayers, which turns Vermont into a welfare state, which in turn is supported by “higher” income taxpayers. This situation certainly discourages in-migration and in turn encourages higher income taxpayer to look for lower tax venues elsewhere.
My wife and I retired to Vermont 11 years ago. Our children were educated in another state yet we recognize the importance of quality education to all Vermonters and are inclined to support our schools but feel aggrieved by an unfair tax system (we support the passage of the recent bond vote for Vergennes Union High School). We would feel a lot better, however, when we write our check for education funding, if we felt that the tax was not discriminatory as it is now structured.
Joel Miller

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