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Legislative leaders eye surplus for property tax relief

MONTPELIER — Minutes after announcing that the state could expect a bigger surplus than anticipated, top Democrats called for the extra money to be used to provide property tax relief.

In announcing the additional surplus, Administration Secretary Mike Smith chided lawmakers for passing new taxes.

Smith said April revenues proved very strong, and the next two months will help determine how healthy the surplus will be, but Smith estimated it could be as high as $29 million.

“We are on pace for record breaking revenues, with a substantial surplus for this fiscal year,” said Smith.

“This is good news for Vermonters as it effectively takes the need for any tax increases off the table. With this revenue knowledge in hand it is inconceivable to me why anyone would be advocating for a tax increase. Hardworking Vermonters will rightly ask: Why is the Legislature increasing taxes at a time of surpluses?” said Smith in a statement. “This legislature has a propensity for trying to raise tax after tax. First it was the tax on buying a home, then it was a tax on heating fuel for that home, then it was a tax on your car for driving to and from that home, then there is talk about raising the income tax and now yesterday, the Senate passed yet another tax.”

Smith was referring to the tax on profits earned by Entergy from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. The money would be used to fund a program designed to help Vermonters save money on home heating fuel.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, and Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, said they were pleased with the surplus news.

“As leaders of the Vermont House and Senate, we believe this surplus money should be used to provide property tax relief to all Vermonters and we urge members of the Vermont Legislature and the Douglas administration to join us in that commitment,” said the Democratic leaders. “A variety of methods are available to achieve that goal of property relief and we look forward to a discussion of which method is most appropriate. Regardless of the method, we believe that the money should be used for property tax relief for all Vermonters.”

Members of the House and Senate are currently meeting to hash out differences over this year’s state spending plan.

Of any surplus money, $7 million is earmarked for the Education Fund, and the House has set aside $8.9 million in so-called “waterfall” spending, or money beyond the earlier projected surplus. The Senate has earmarked $14.8 million in surplus spending.

The Douglas administration would like to earmark some of the newfound surplus for the future replacement of the Vermont State Hospital.

Shumlin, Smith, and Symington will be guests on Vermont Public Television’s final “Report from Montpelier” — a live call-in program. The show will air May 10 at 8 p.m. and will be hosted by Mark Johnson.

Bistro Sauce

Support for secession grows among Vermonters

BURLINGTON — A recent statewide survey conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont found that the percentage of eligible voters who favor Vermont seceding from the Union States and becoming an independent republic, as it once was between 1777 and 1791, increased from 8 percent in 2006 to 14 percent in 2007.

The 2007 Vermonter Poll was based on a random sample of 599 eligible voters conducted in February.

The 13 percent figure may represent the highest percentage favoring secession of any of the 35 states with secession movements, according to the Second Vermont Republic, the group that advocates for peacable secession.

The secession support is girded by Vermonters' response to a second question: “Has the United States government lost its moral authority?” Of those polled, 74.3 percent agreed that it had.

Of those Vermonters who favor secession, 83.6 percent would like to see the question put before voters on Town Meeting Day. And, of those who favor secession, 93 percent would then like to see the issue considered by the Legislature.

Posted May 3, 2007

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