Vermont's crafty legislators

There were only three counties in Vermont which were colored red on the now-famous USA Today map of the 2000 election returns, because they had voted right, unlike all the rest which had voted left and were colored blue, thereby giving Vermont its then-new designation as a blue state. The little Town of Newark perches in one of them, Caledonia County, Vt., in the so-called Northeast Kingdom. Now, its citizens are unhappy with the statewide property tax, as the following Jan. 28 article excerptwritten by Tena Starr and reprinted here with permissionfrom a recent Caledonian-Record article explains: After a year and half or so of trying to push education reform to relieve the propertytax burden, Ben Bangs of Newark is a little discouraged. He and the organization of Newark taxpayers called Vermont Citizens for Justice have decided to soldier on, although they're considerably less optimistic than they once were. Two years ago, when property taxes in Newark went up 38 percent, Bangs and others decided to get together and figure out why. The school budget hadn't jumped that much. Why had property taxes increased so? In Kirby, a similar situation has hit hard this year, with property taxes increasing by as much as 40 percent, although the school budget went up by just 4 percent. Taxpayers there are newer to the battle and are launching their own effort to draw the attention of the legislature and Gov. Jim Douglas to the plight of rural property taxpayers. In both towns, people fear that they will be taxed out of their property, and it's unlikely that they're alone. To illustrate, Bangs said that his parents, who are retired, will, in five years, see their property tax bill nearly equal what they paid for their entire farm back in the late 1960s. His own tax bill is pushing what he pays for his mortgage, he said. The line which reads their own effort to draw the attention of the legislature and Gov. Jim Douglas to the plight of rural property taxpayers drew my own attention. It assumes that the executive and legislative branches dont know what the Judicial Branch started with the Brigham decision which led directly to Act 60. I would respectfully disagree. If you read news articles about such towns as Newark, you realize that their school-district budget frugality doesnt show up in any reduction of tax burden, because of the way Act 60 was designed. I can recall, while still living in Addison County, superintendents and activist board members arguing for all their pet project and program cost increasers on the grounds that rejecting them wouldnt lower taxes. The Newark article specifically reports that taxes in Kirby are up by 40% while school spending is up by only (sic) 4%. Im more than a little surprised that Vermont Citizens for Justice in Newark actually seems to believe that the Golden Dome and executive suite occupants are (and were during the development of Act 60), so dull as not to realize that setting up a statewide property tax, wherein contrary to historical practice, rising assessments need not be balanced by declining tax rates so as to be revenue-neutral would generate a continuously growing revenue source as long as property value continue to rise. The politicians were easily smart enough to realize just that and capitalize (pun intended) on it. In short, what has happened to all those towns like Newark wasnt some unfortunate and unanticipated misstep of which the instigators are blissfully unaware. It was deliberately designed fiscal policy, with two objectives: 1. to turn the property tax into a continuously growing revenue source; and 2. to disconnect local spending or frugality from actual tax burden, so as to make it useless to bother voting on any budget proposal.

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