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Vermont House endorses school tax increases

Dave Gram, Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Amid grumbling from minority Republicans, the Vermont House on Wednesday endorsed increases in the statewide school property tax of 5 cents per $100 of value for residential properties and 6 cents per $100 for vacation and commercial properties.

The bill won preliminary approval on a vote of 96-45. It's up for final House action Thursday before moving to the Senate.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and his fellow Democrats in the House argued they were merely responding to decisions made by local school boards and endorsed by voters to increase budgets, which are slated to rise an average of 5.52 percent in the coming year.

"The bottom line is local communities decide spending and the state is required to fund that spending," said Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The tax on a primary home and up to 2 acres of land would go from 89 cents to 94 cents per $100 of value. For commercial, vacation and other properties, the statewide tax would rise from $1.38 to $1.44 per $100.

Vermont's complex school funding system relies on a statewide property tax designed to equalize the ability of individual cities and towns to raise money for schools. Local school districts then can raise some money above and beyond what the state does.

Vermont's statewide tax system, created in the late 1990s, has come under fire from ski resort towns and other communities that historically had enjoyed low tax rates and well-funded schools thanks to lots of taxable property. Wednesday was no exception.

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican from the resort town of Stowe, complained bitterly during the House debate that Vermont's school funding system was broken.

"I've had enough. My constituents have had enough," Scheuermann said. "It's time to put our foot down." She urged her House colleges to vote down the increases and "send a message to our (Ways and Means) committee that we won't stand for this anymore."