House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
You’ve probably heard more than you want to about the legislative special session. We are currently working on a bill (H.13) that includes all of the provisions of the vetoed budget and finance bills that have broad support across the political spectrum from the legislature and governor. All parties agree on 99.4 percent of the budget, though you wouldn’t know it listening to the news. We disagree over $34.5 million of surplus revenue – revenue we didn’t expect – out of a $5.86 billion budget. The disagreement is over two very different methods of giving the money back to taxpayers – buying down property tax rates by $34.5 million for one year knowing they will pop up even more next year, or reducing tax obligations by $100 million over a period of time by buying down our pension obligations. I am doing everything I can to put into law all the parts we agree upon, so that the reckless threat of a government shutdown is off the table and we can focus our attention on the areas of disagreement.
Why all the hullaballoo? You will hear that H.13 raises taxes on non-residential property. Let me be clear: Nothing in H.13 raises taxes. Nothing. Zip. The governor could easily sign this bill without breaking his “no new taxes” promise. H.13 reduces income taxes by $30 million by lowering every income tax rate and exempts taxes on Social Security for low and middle income Vermonters. It stabilizes the average residential property taxes at last year’s rate. The opposition is afraid that passing this bill and nothing else (which would create a deficit in the Education Fund which I oppose and which we have never done), then non-residential tax rates would default to the $1.59 rate that has existed in statute for 15 years. News flash: That’s been the case with every budget and education finance bill since Act 68 was passed in 2003. No one has ever complained about that dynamic before and it’s never happened. We’ve always passed an education finance bill. I would like to reduce the drama and just do our jobs. I will continue to work to keep government open, so we can focus on negotiating a compromise on how to give the $34.5 million back to you and settling the remaining areas of disagreement over education finance policy.
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