Editorial: Are your taxes a problem?

The liberal Public Assets Institute recently asked all Vermonters a compelling question: Are your school taxes a problem? In seeking public response, one would think they will be flooded by responses from taxpayers who are angry about their high property tax bills.
The folks at PAI are asking the question because, as PAI president Paul Cillo pens in his letter to taxpayers: “There is serious talk in the Legislature about changing how we govern and fund public education in Vermont. And proposed changes could have a dramatic effect on Vermonters’ control over their schools, on who pays the bill, and on the quality of education available to our children.”
It’s good to have discussion, Cillo notes, but it appears the Legislature has identified the problem before they have collected any evidence to support it.
With rebates calibrated to a homeowners’ ability to pay, are current property taxes really creating the hardship that has dominated the political discourse over the past two years, or is the discourse being led by a few well-placed critics who want taxes of all kinds cut further?
“We know,” Cillo says, “that roughly two-thirds of Vermonters pay school taxes on their homes based on their income. The idea behind the income-based school tax was to have school funding more closely linked to average Vermonters’ ability to pay. Are the income-based taxes too high? Many higher-income people, who pay based on their property value instead of income, pay a smaller share of their income to support Vermont schools than most middle-income residents do. Are there some in this higher-income group who think school taxes are excessive?”
Cillo continues:
“We’ve read the news stories saying property taxes are too high. But it’s hard to know what ‘too high’ means without seeing a tax bill and having some idea about the taxpayer’s ability to pay. So we’re looking for information. If you (or someone you know) would like to help shed light on the ‘crisis’ by providing specific information, we need the following:
     • A copy of your most recent property tax bill—and your bills for the past three years if you still have them.
     • If your tax bill does not show a state adjustment, did you apply for an adjustment? (Eligibility varies with individual circumstance, but typically households with income of up to about $105,000 can pay school taxes on their primary residences based on household income and receive an adjustment on their property tax bill.)
     • A brief statement of why, based on your personal situation, you see a crisis in school funding.
     • An email address and phone number where we can reach you.
You can either mail this information to us at: School Taxes, c/o Public Assets Institute, PO Box 942, Montpelier, Vt., 05601, or email it to us at: [email protected].”
And one more thing, he says, spread the word. The more info the institute gets, the better able they will be to answer the question: Are high school taxes a problem?” And don’t worry about being identified: all information will be kept anonymous. “We want to contribute to the development of good fiscal policy for Vermont,” Cillo explains, “and good policy starts with good information.”
So there you go. If you think school taxes are a problem, get involved by sending in your information.
Angelo S. Lynn

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