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Legislative Notes for February 16, 2012

February 10, 2012

Another week at the Statehouse has come to an end. I have spent a considerable amount of time organizing informational meetings for the caucus as we begin to get more bills out onto the floor for action. This is a very important part of my role as Minority Leader. Since most members of the caucus are working on specific issues within their assigned committee they are not always aware of what bills are being discussed or moving in other committees. It is my job to ensure that everyone in the caucus understands every bill that comes onto the floor for action. This has helped me get a much better and broader understanding of the proposed bills and its implications on you the taxpayer.

We debated bills pertaining storm water, school consolidation and the education tax rate for fiscal year 2013 this week. The storm water bill H.752 pertained to permitting storm water discharges in impaired waterways. It establishes a process and sets fees for permitting development in these 14 areas around the state.

H.753 tweaks some of the voluntary measures and adds some incentives for school district consolidation. The education committee has worked on this bill for the last five weeks and has added some incentives that might encourage some school districts to actually move forward with a merger. It is believed that the state must consolidate some of these smaller school districts in order to curb the unsustainable cost of education in Vermont. Vermont currently spends more than any other state in the country on education based on a cost per pupil basis.

H.754 the education property tax rate and base education amount for fiscal year 2013 was also acted upon this week. When the current education funding law was enacted it established the tax rates for residential properties at $1.10 and non-residential properties at $1.59. Fortunately for Vermont property tax payers they have never had to pay these statutory rates due to the fluctuation by other factors in the equation. As a result, the legislature has annually established this rate based on the need generated by school board approved proposed budgets. This year the House voted to increase last years rates by one cent to $.88 for residential and $1.37 for non-residential properties. I could not support this increase because it was not necessary as there should have been a three cent deduction in the rate. Last year the Governor underfunded the education fund by $23 million and then rebased the education fund going forward. This action was taken in the secrecy of a conference committee and will cost property tax payers going forward.

I also spent some time talking to other members of the legislature about the Auditor’s report on Milton’s Tax Increment Financing District. Many members of the legislature are confused by the complexity of the TIF legislation itself and of this report. I think that this issue will continue to confuse people until the results of all TIF audits are finalized and an all-inclusive resolution is recommended to the legislature. This will likely mean that there will be no resolution for us until the next legislative session.

I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is http://www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

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