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With some self-satisfied patting of themselves on the back state legislators announced last week that the increase in the statewide residential property tax would be 4 cents versus the projected 7 cents.
What they did not announce with the same fanfare was the fact that they reduced the projected increase by reducing the base education amount, which means that any per pupil spending above that amount is raised via local property taxes. That means effectively no property tax relief for any Vermont towns.
The base rate is now $9,250, down from $9,382. Keep in mind that last year the average per pupil cost in Vermont was $13,546. That's a pretty big gap.
This year in our school district, voters approved school budgets that ranged from per pupil costs of $13,105 (Warren) to $16,919 (Moretown).
Remember, towns that spend beyond the base amount don't just pay the difference; they pay the difference multiplied upward by the percentage that they are over.
Manipulating the numbers like this does not provide any real property tax relief although it does slightly redistribute the burden to relieve tax pressure on higher earning households. The obvious corollary to that is that it will increase pressure on the state's lower earning households.
To argue, as some lawmakers have, that lower earning households who are income sensitized have no skin in the game so that when they are passing school budgets they are less frugal than higher earning households, is a dangerous position to take.
They may have less skin in the property tax game because they have less skin overall to spend than those who earn in the top tax brackets. They have less skin total. Less skin for cars, houses, college, food, savings, vacations, etc.
So the increase in the statewide property tax stays at 4 cents versus 7. And those who pay full freight – with lots of skin in the game – will see a little relief. And those who are income sensitized will get some more skin in the game and will pay more.
That's a relief.