5-cent education property tax increase needed

801 words / VTDigger.org

Statewide base property tax rates might increase again — by a nickel in 2015 — to meet the rising cost of education. But in recommending the rate bump, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson also suggests looking for a way to get schools to curb spending.

Peterson issued her official property tax recommendation Tuesday afternoon: Base homestead property tax rates should go from 94 cents to 99 cents, she said; non-residential property tax rates should increase from $1.44 to $1.49. Peterson recommended no change to the homestead income tax rate of 1.8 percent.

The Legislature, which ultimately sets statewide tax rates, will consider Peterson’s recommendations when it reconvenes in January.

Lawmakers also might respond to Peterson’s urging that they consider ways to limit the growth of education spending from year to year. Her message echoes one she delivered to the House Ways & Means Committee at a recent pre-session meeting that focused on education finance.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday also appealed to school boards to keep their budgets lean.

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Unfunded health care obligations threaten teacher pensions

916 words / VTDigger.org

State Treasurer Beth Pearce might soon run out of metaphors for the chronic funding shortfall in Vermont’s teacher retirement system.

It’s a “monster,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “It’s at a tipping point,” she said. It’s like a credit card that charges 18 percent interest, when a 2 percent deal sits idle on your desk. “It’s taking the wind out of the sails of (the pension system’s) recovery.”

The Vermont State Teachers’ Retirement System (VSTRS) encompasses pensions and other retirement benefits of retired teachers. It’s one of three pension systems managed by the state treasurer — the other two being state and municipal employees.

The teacher pensions have been consistently funded by the state Legislature in recent years, Pearce says, but the health care benefits have not. The state is falling about $20 million short each year, she estimates, based on the current cost of healthcare and demand for services. The health care is getting paid for, Pearce emphasizes, but in a very expensive way.

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Public to private: State and independents struggle with school conversion

1364 words / VTDigger.org

When North Bennington turned its public school private this year, some people in the Statehouse and Agency of Education grew nervous.

What would this mean for local and state taxpayers, they wondered. For the Education Fund? For children in the district?

A moratorium and an outright ban on the same transition in other towns were floated in both the House and Senate, but ultimately lawmakers settled on a committee to study the issue further. That group met for the second time Wednesday morning. It’s off to a slow — but passionate — start.

Central to the sometimes edgy debate was all manner of access: Access to a full range of services for students with special needs, access to school choice for families and access to school records and accountability mechanisms for state officials and members of the public.

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