Income tax-funded education supporters keep conversation alive

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) After a fight this spring between Governor Scott and lawmakers over property tax rates nearly caused a government shutdown, a new push is on to pay for public education in Vermont with the income tax.

The Vermont NEA is joining forces with Voices for Vermont's Children and the Public Assets Institute to push for eliminating the residential property tax. That monumental change is likely to face plenty of obstacles, though.

"We know that the time is now to eliminate the residential property tax and go to a fairer, more transparent, more predictable way of funding our education system," said Darren Allen with the NEA, the state's largest teacher's union.
He says the residential property tax that helps pay for public education is regressive and that an income tax is more equitable because it is based on the ability to pay.

Property taxes have been a critical issue in the last two legislative sessions and Vermonters routinely complain of how much they must pay. The union and its allies plan to push their idea during the fall election, supported by social media and broadcast advertising. "We need to start making the point that it's time to make our education funding fairer, transparent and predictable," Allen said.

Legislators worked on a partial shift to an income tax this year to take a bite out of the more than $400 million raised by the residential property tax.

"Our proposal actually would have shifted somewhere between $130 million and $170 million, depending on the plan we were looking at," said Rep. Janet Ancel, D- Calais, the House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman.

It didn't pass, but Ancel says big changes take time to understand. "When you're making a substantial structural change, there are always going to be winners and losers and you need to understand who they are," she said. The discussions are likely to continue, but Ancel says substantial change isn't likely to happen soon. "Something's not gonna pass this session. I think that's probably pretty safe to say," she said.

Ancel says she's skeptical of shifting entirely to an income tax and that officials need to more information about how it impacts different demographics.