PROPERTY TRANSFER TAX INCREASE AVOIDED
Last week, the Agricultural Committee proposed adding a Â¼% to Non-Residential property, in an effort to raise $4 million to aid struggling dairy farmers. Vermont Association of Realtors (VAR) testified before the Committee that we understand the need to keep the dairy industry vital to the state economy; however, this increase would impact those who can least afford to buy housing because it would most likely raise rents and possibly deter commercial transactions which could create or protect jobs. Before the Ways and Means Committee, VAR made the argument that there should be awareness that adding cost to transactions has a cumulative effect which could inadvertently stall an uncertain market. This is essentially why the Federal Reserve has stopped raising the Prime Rate by Â¼% as it was showing signs of creating a declining real estate market.
Fortunately, Administration and Legislative Leadership found other funding sources to cover the dairy subsidy and the PTT increase was avoided in the end.
EDUCATION FUNDING GAINING INTEREST
As a result of Governor Douglas, Speaker Symington and President Pro Tem Shumlin agreeing to â€œThe Framework for Containing Property Tax Increasesâ€, several legislative committees are diligently working on the various elements outlined in the Framework. The House Ways and Means Committee spent most of the week tackling the complexities of the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA), and are considering changes to the income sensitivity thresholds and evaluating the effect of capping the increases in school budgets and prebates. Meanwhile, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House and Senate Education Committees held a joint session to explore the reasons for the cost shifts from human services to school budgets
The House Education Committee heard from a variety of stakeholders about the pros and cons of consolidating school districts. The Vermont School Boards Association recommended providing school districts with technical assistance and financial incentives to analyze the cost-effectiveness of consolidation. They further emphasized that the decision to consolidate must be made from the bottom up rather than top down. The VSBA contends that better data are necessary to demonstrate whether or not efficiencies and cost savings are truly achieved by consolidation.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING ALSO GETS A HEARING
The Senate has begun an exploration of what can be done to foster the development of non-subsidized, moderately priced housing. Ideas including bridging the equity gap, streamlined permitting, increasing affordable housing tax credits, growth center implementation, more density, and low cost capital. Vermontâ€™s tight labor market is a symptom, while high land and construction costs were mentioned as elements of the solution to the problem. The Administrationâ€™s New Neighborhoods Initiative was rolled out to both the Senate Institutions and Finance Committees. This concept proposes waiving the Act 250 review process for projects adjacent to existing neighborhoods and makes surplus land owned by the State available through a bid process for affordable housing projects.