VTNEA Lobbying for Tax Increases

April 10, 2020

By Rob Roper

State legislators are beginning to face the reality that declining revenues will necessitate spending cuts and planning for these cuts will have to start sooner rather than later. This reality is more complicated for public education because of the weird sate/local hybrid system we have in which multiple local communities set budgets, but the state is responsible for raising the revenue to cover those budgets. This can often be a painful process; now it might be impossible.

But, this reality is apparently lost on the Vermont Teachers’ Union, whose executive director testified to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that he expects tax increases for funding increased budgets when we come through the healthcare aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.

Jeff Fannon, executive director of the VT NEA told legislators, “Everything has to be involved. I do think that revenue enhancements are very likely to be part of the mix and need to be.” Asked to clarify what he meant by that, Fannon replied, “Quite honestly, I think tax increases.” (around 1:40:00 on the video)

Jay Nichols, who heads the VT Principals Association, testified sounded a similar note, “I cannot think of a worse time in my career to consider cutting school budgets or otherwise reducing spending on behalf of the children of Vermont.”

This followed testimony by the Joint Fiscal Office outlining the devastating loss of revenue Vermont is facing in the wake the economic shut down and the expectation that many Vermonters, having lost their jobs and/or considerable income, will not be able to pay their property taxes as it is.

Jeff Francis of the Superintendents Association took a more realistic stance. “Given what we know about education funding and education finance I would be naïve and not utilizing what I have in my own experience to believe that some of the ideas that come forward would not address the expense side of the equation. I think they have to. And for that reason I have been compelling nearly everyone that I have spoken with and appealing that this is really a ‘we are all in this together’ type approach.”

Cutting education spending is complicated in Vermont as budgets are determined locally, and most have already been approved by the voters. For 2021, the budgets passed mean a $73 million increase in spending over 2020 – money that likely won’t be there.

However, Mark Perrault, Senior Fiscal Analyst at JFO, noted that there is still an opportunity for local districts to get spending under some measure of control. “Budgets are closed, but contract negotiations are not. All but three districts have an opportunity right now and adjust their spending [through contract negotiations] regardless of what their budget is. They don’t have to spend their budget. If they can make savings, those can be realized in 2021.”

It’s an interesting point: just because a district authorizes spending of $XX, it doesn’t have to spend $XX. It can spend less. This is what’s going to have to happen, and Perrault has been rightly beating the drum for this approach.

It won’t be easy, though. There are 115 different school districts and 251 individual municipalities that are the taxing entities for those district, which makes it difficult to coordinate a budgeting strategy, particularly in a short time. Citizens can help in this situation by contacting their local school board members and letting them know that you are aware of the contact option and expect them to use this – the only – opportunity to ensure the bill for K-12 education doesn’t outpace Vermonters’ ability to pay it.

The Union will strongly disagree.

By Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick Finnie April 11, 2020 at 1:16 am

But it’s good for the collective comrade !!


Mike April 12, 2020 at 12:58 pm

For the umpteenth time, how can one justify ever escalating school budgets when the student population has been declining for years???? It’s always “we can’t abandon our children”. In the real world, when sales decline, folks are laid off and spending is cut.
This mess can be blamed on the NEA and the convoluted budget/union contract negotiation process. REVISE IT!!!


thomas moore April 11, 2020 at 9:17 am

I feel its time for the schools to be there for the tax payer. We have been there for them all these year now it time for them to help us. One thing that up sets me is here in Montpelier the schools here had to spend $1-4 million on a play ground. Stuff like this need to stop know wounder or taxs are so high


P Maloney April 11, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Once upon a time, a long time ago, American schools were completely local and independent, privately established, supported and supervised by trusted members of each town or self-defined district. That changed after WW1 & 2 when communist/fascist academics emigrated to the west (see Gramsci & and The Frankfurt School), and their social engineering projects gradually took over, creating mandatory public education, to our generational detriment.

We need wholesale creative destruction of the current system and replace funding by property tax with tuition only, and complete choice of curriculum/providers, whether physical or on-line. It makes no sense that people (whether parents or not) should be responsible for their entire property ownership lives to educate others…especially when there is little to no say in budgets, as they are crafted by self-interested unions with the (paid) support of politicians, who should rightly be representing the tax-paying citizens. The historical records prove that the constant increases in public spending of education has had no relationship to outcomes, and no benefit to individual or civic life in any measurable way as standards have sharply declined over the years.

With any luck and common sense, in the near future people will come to see that this lockdown period provides an opportunity, showing no decline in student achievement, but instead more acceptance of home and online schooling as a real and manageable alternative for the average working family. Even if a safety net of basic education is needed for the poorest and most disabled, it could still be obtained through charities and non-profits, as are already abundantly represented in the marketplace.


L.Dunbar April 11, 2020 at 11:07 am

Act 46 was such a wonderful Idea, take local control of the schools and give it to the state. Bad idea then Really bad now that everyone can see how it’s not working. Maybe people will wake up and vote the Spendocrats out of Montpelier or at least vote in some people with fiscal responsibility .


Michael T. Bromley April 11, 2020 at 11:34 am

Unions are paricitical , They suck the life out of their hosts !


weiland a. ross April 11, 2020 at 1:43 pm

As usual, the VTNEA is behaving in a manner which exposes their basic instinct to be feather-bedders, leeches at the public feeding grounds, and generally an embarrassment to the teaching profession. If the legislature had one vertebrae in their collective body this would be a good time to examine and revise the whole process that endlessly increases spending while enrollment drops and test scores are a joke.


P Maloney April 11, 2020 at 2:48 pm

Nearly every vertebrae in the spines of most of our legislators is completely supported by the NEA. It is unlikely they will change their stripes. What’s scary is that so many voters approve of their unsustainable madness.


John Klar April 11, 2020 at 2:15 pm

Listen everybody, it’s not taxation — it’s “revenue enhancement.” And if the State were to offer tax relief to citizens, that is now called a “tax expenditure.” Everything is backwards, a la Orwell. And now that pesky math thing will intervene. Perhaps our Legislature will authorize printing presses for a new “Vermont currency” when we default on pensions and our bond issues fall flat. They could call it “monetary supply harvest.”


Rob April 11, 2020 at 2:26 pm

Funny, the committee chair, Anne Cummings, joked (I hope) about giving the appropriations committee a printing press and returning to the days of state script.


Trad April 17, 2020 at 9:48 pm

“Citizens can help in this situation by contacting their local school board members and letting them know that you are aware of the contact option and expect them to use this – the only – opportunity to ensure the bill for K-12 education doesn’t outpace Vermonters’ ability to pay it.”
Unfortunately Act 46 caused the creation of monsters in each new “region” with a structure that few understand with new members that few people could name.
How many teachers and state employees are legislators? How much do the NEA and VSEA spend on lobbying?
Three years ago I asked the now senate majority leader to listen to Gov. Scott in his suggested use of $26,000,000 which could be gained from health insurance savings to offset property taxes. She replied that she had talked to teachers who were against it so she was. That said a lot.


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