End-of-session showdown looming over ed spending plan

Published: May. 2, 2018 at 3:39 PM EDT
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The Scott administration released its education plan Tuesday, and on Wednesday lawmakers dug into the details. Lawmakers across the political spectrum say they have concerns about the governor's use of $58 million in one-time funds this year to try to trim education spending in the future.

"I don't think on face we should accept anything," said Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury.

Beck wants to reform education but he's not sure the governor's plan is the right way. Scott wants to use one-time money to prevent a seven-cent property tax increase this year. He wants lawmakers to approve cost-containment measures that save money over the next five years to pay back the $58 million.

But Beck worries the cost-savings in the governor's plan aren't guaranteed. They include a statewide health contract for teachers, raising the student-to-staff ratio and trimming tax assistance based on income.

"My first look at the proposal is I'm not sure those are in there. They could be put in there," he said.

The Vermont School Boards Association shares that concern.

"This approach presupposes an outcome for each of the long-range issues that the governor is hoping to address," said the association's Nicole Mace. "We've seen historically that it doesn't work."

Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, often agrees with the governor's fiscal policies, but not this time. She opposes using one-time money to buy down tax rates this year.

"I'm a little concerned about it. I'm afraid we're going to end up where we are today again next year in terms of raising property taxes by the use of one-time funds," she said.

Sibilia says the governor's cost-containment ideas would work if Vermont had a single school district or regional districts.

"Sad to say, I think they're probably the worst things that we could do to our students and our districts at this point," Sibilia said.

House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, is concerned about the plan too.

"The major issue that we have is the one-time money. I've been opposing one-time money use since I've been here," he said.

But Turner says the Republican caucus will work to pass the governor's plan as long as the Democratic majority agrees to trim spending in future years.

"I'm gonna, and our caucus is gonna push really hard that the majority accept the entire package," Turner said.

Both the House and Senate have already approved budget plans that use some of the one-time money the governor wants for education, setting up a showdown between the governor and Democratic leaders in the waning days of the legislative session.

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