Legislative Review: Tax complaints lost on some

New legislative session, new legislator, it is going to be a stimulating four months.
The governor set the stage from the beginning of the session with two important speeches. In his inaugural address, the governor focused on two areas — clean water, specifically Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River basins, and renewable energy. In his budget address, Gov. Shumlin spent most of his time on health care, education/property taxes, the Vermont economy and the numbers associated with these subjects.
I noted a lack of enthusiasm from the audience for much of what the governor proposed. For my part, the speech did accurately touch upon tough choices that need to be made concerning education spending and the budget. To his credit, he also made mention of stopping unfunded mandates in schools.
The governor also wants to raise taxes to fund programs and balance the budget. Not only is the governor recommending tax increases, but several of our legislators are proposing increases or ideas that come with extra costs to consumers. Among the 700 new bills being drafted in Montpelier — yes, 700 as of Jan. 23 — we have bills sponsored that will tax sweetened drinks, such as soda and Gatorade. On the campaign trail last fall, an important message I received from voters was to stop the property tax increases and to help make Vermont a more affordable place to live. The following list of proposed tax increases suggests not everyone got the word.
1.          Establishment of a 0.7-percent employer payroll tax.
2.          Tax sweetened beverages two cents for every ounce.
3.          Levy a tax on agricultural fertilizers.
4.          Reduce the tax credit on farm buildings from 100 percent to 70 percent.
5.          Eliminate the tax deduction you are now allowed for state income and property taxes when you itemize deductions on your returns.
In the governor’s budget speech there were no suggestions as to how to control property taxes today. In the last decade the non-property tax support for the education fell from 39.2 percent to 32.3 percent. This adds a lot of pressure to the property tax. This year we can reduce some of the property tax burden by increasing the general funds contribution to the education fund. This will lower the 2015 property tax bills. Other funding measures are being discussed. I have confidence in Dave Sharpe, my Addison-4 co-legislator, who became chair of the Education Committee, to help guide the state to a more sustainable education funding strategy.
House Speaker Shap Smith placed me on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee. As a businessman I can relate to the responsibilities we will deal with in this committee. Economic growth, more and better paying jobs and company expansions are part of the formula for growing our tax base, making it easier to fund programs and minimize tax pressures. I am sure I’ll have more to report on this front as time goes by.
Finally on a lighter note, my first month in Montpelier has been exciting, colorful, sometimes a bit overwhelming, humbling and a lot of fun. All the representatives and senators I have met are friendly and helpful. We all want what is best for Vermonters. Although the path to “what’s best” may be different for each of us, one can’t help but smile and get engaged with the varied cast of characters that are your elected representatives.

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