Legislators consider income tax to fund public education

BRIDPORT — A proposal to use the income tax as the primary source for funding public schools was the top issue discussed by participants at the season’s first legislative breakfast, held Monday at the Bridport Grange Hall.
Local lawmakers also shared their view on the state’s new marijuana law and a plan to lower prescription drug costs, among other topics (click the links to see those stories).
Rep. Dave Sharpe is chairman of the House Education Committee, which is looking at ways of cutting public school costs. The Bristol Democrat said at Monday’s breakfast that as his panel does its work, the House Ways & Means Committee is specifically looking at new ways to fund education.
School costs in Vermont have been increasing by roughly the rate of inflation, while student enrollment has been on the decline, Sharpe noted. Still, most Vermont communities have chosen to preserve their local schools, even at a higher annual cost.
“We actually value public education, and public education costs money,” Sharpe said.
On the brighter side, Sharpe said Act 46 — Vermont’s school governance unification law — has been driving down administrative costs in many school districts. He also pointed to an effort in Montpelier to provide special education more effectively at a lower price.
Bristol Republican Rep. Fred Baser, a member of House Ways & Means, said this could be the year the Legislature shifts education funding from the property tax to the income tax.
He said the current property tax-reliant system for funding education is so complicated some lawmakers are having trouble explaining it to their constituents. House Ways & Means, according to Baser, is evaluating a public education income tax that all Vermonters would have to pay as the main funding mechanism for their schools.
Baser stressed, however, that he and his colleagues want to see a corresponding decline in property taxes, which have become a major burden for Vermonters — even under Act 68, which has an income sensitivity provision for lower-income households.
“Our goal is to lower people’s property taxes by around 40 percent,” Baser said.
“It’s not going to be perfectly fair for everyone, but we feel the system is going to be more transparent,” he added.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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