Vermonters for Better Education
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Last Tuesday's election results certainly came as a surprise to everybody.
With all of the consternation and complaints about Act 60, the logging restriction bill, and other high profile transfers of local control to Montpelier, it appeared that our legislature might shift, if not to complete Republican control, certainly to control of one of the houses. It didn't, though, perhaps because the most worrisome parts of Act 60 were deliberately timed to phase in after this election. Whatever the cause, control, though weakened by the net increase of 11 Republicans in the house, still resides in the left wing of the Democrat Party. That being the case, I offer some predictions about what will or will not happen in the next biennium.
Act 60 will not be altered in any meaningful way. No alternative to the statewide property tax will make it out of committee. But, because Act 60 was underfunded in the first place to enhance its chance of passage, the legislature is going to have to find at least $100m. (that's one hundred million dollars, folks) in new revenues to finance the current cost of education. Look for some scrambling to find the money. Look for up to three swift kicks in your financial fanny: the legislature may quite dramatically lower the bar of what is a "gold town" to include a substantial number of towns that now receive benefits; it might lower the income sensitivity bar from a family income of $75,000 to $40 - 50,000, thereby eliminating many, many families from eligibility; and/or it might substantially increase the statewide property tax rate. Say goodbye to the Governor's promised reduction of the state income tax from 25% to 24% of your federal tax liability. There will be no reductions in any rates this time around.
Forget school choice. Governor Dean showed admirable courage in embracing school choice last January. Had there been a more substantial shift to the right in the elections, Dean, who is far more conservative than the leadership of his party and of the legislature, might have been able to pull it off. Unfortunately it takes more than guts to make law, and Dean's party mates have no stomach for school choice. He doesn't have the votes.
There will be no change in the severe restrictions put on the rights of landowners and loggers during the last session. Logs and loggers are not important to the Chittendon/Rutland crowd. Having paved whatever in their regions still had grass on it, they have salved their consciences by crippling the logging industry up here in the Northeast Kingdom and in other almost totally forested regions of the state. They are not going to open the door to losing their new-found environmental piety.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that I turn out to be a lousy prophet. If that happens, I will gladly swear off prophecy and predictions, and I will become a true believer that the sun sometimes rises in the west and sets in the east.
Bernier L. Mayo
Nov. 6, 1998