LEGISLATIVE UPDATE Volume 7, No. 10 Published by the Office of Government Relations Ruth Wallman, Director 656-8627 FAX: 656-3203 [log in to unmask] March 21, 1997 Property Tax Reform Dominates This Week in the House The House Ways and Means Committee proposal to replace the local property tax as source of funding for education was hotly debated this week in the House. Over twenty amendments were proposed to try to derail the proposal, which is an amalgam of statewide taxes on residential and non-residential property, a local income tax, and increases in several General Fund taxes. The major assault on the plan was an amendment by Rep. Ruth Dwyer, R-Thetford, who proposed a tax on gross receipts to replace not only the property tax but also the sales tax. Her research showed that a gross receipts tax would raise millions of dollars, enough to fund K-12 education. Her proposal, supported by Republicans as well as a few Democrats, failed 86-59. An even more controversial amendment, proposed by Tom Little, R-Shelburne, would have removed the income tax piece of the proposal. This amendment was defeated 82-64. Both of these votes assured the passage of the property tax bill, formally known as H. 527. However, both the Republicans and the Governor took comfort in the votes on the two important amendments. The Senate, where H.527 is headed, is not inclined to support the income tax. The close votes show the Senate that support for the bill in the House is soft. Likewise, the Governor can now veto the bill, if it continues to contain the income tax, and be less concerned that the legislature will override. The ensuing discussion in the Senate will illuminate the deep divisions within the Democratic party regarding funding of education. In addition, the Senate is likely to add a school choice piece to the bill; Sen. Chard, D-Windham, chairs the Senate Education Committee and is supportive of public school choice. Meanwhile, members of the business community continue to advocate a "go slow" process, for fear that such radical change in tax policy will harm Vermont's fragile economy. FY 98 Capital Budget Thursday evening's news reported that Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans, has proposed an amendment to the Capital Budget affecting UVM. It essentially ties UVM's appropriation to the ability of Channel 44 to build a tower on Mt. Mansfield by circumventing the regulatory process, and then mandates that UVM transfer ownership of the Mt. Mansfield property to the state. The proposed legislation also embargoes UVM's appropriation until UVM complies with the amendment. Although UVM would be the principal loser in the event such an amendment was approved, all the existing lessees on the mountain are affected, principally WCAX, VPR and ETV. The proposed amendment is unlikely to be supported by the other members of the Senate Institutions Committee, which Sen. Illuzzi chairs. Generally, Sen. Illuzzi adds amendments to the capital bill after the Conference Committee has worked out a compromise acceptable to all sides. This year, at least, we have advance notice of his intentions. Extension System Annual Statehouse Visit a Success On Tuesday, President Tom Salmon, Dean Larry Forcier and many Extension faculty and staff came to the Statehouse for the sixth annual presentation to legislators of Extension activities. The House was in session that afternoon, debating various amendments to the property tax reform bill, but members made frequent trips to the cafeteria where Kate Baldwin, Division Advancement Officer, had arranged for a sumptuous spread of Vermont food products for sampling. Legislators returned to the floor refreshed for another round of debate, which lasted into the dinner hour. Over a hundred legislators joined us for the warmly-received occasion, which featured a short talk by Lt. Governor Doug Racine, in addition to speeches by Salmon and Forcier. UVM Experts Aid Legislators With Bills Several UVM faculty and administrators have made Statehouse appearances lately to help committees draft legislation: Regina White, Director of Sponsored Programs, testified before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on S.78, the confidentiality of medical records bill. Jill Tarule, Dean of CESS, and Education Department Chair Bud Meyers, have visited the Senate Education Committee to talk about teacher preparation and school choice issues. Larry Shelton, Integrated Professional Studies, testified before the Senate General Affairs Committee on a proposal for family court judges to mandate a mediation program. Dr. Alan Guttmacher is working with the House Judiciary Committee on a bill to regulate genetic testing. Dr. Hyman Muss, head oncologist at FAHC, testified at a public hearing this week sponsored by the House and Senate Health and Welfare Committees regarding a bill which would require insurance companies to cover more cancer treatments in their basic plans. Rep.Karen Kitzmiller, the bill's sponsor, is a patient of Dr. Muss. Dean Larry Forcier testified at a Joint Education Committees discussion of agriculture in education. New Legislator a UVM Alum Richard Marron, a resident of Stowe, has been appointed by Governor Dean to replace Kermit Spaulding, who was recently elected to the post of Sergeant at Arms. Marron, owner of Town and Country Motor Lodge, is a 1959 graduate of UVM. He began his legislative term this week. The focus is now on the Vermont Senate. All the big bills, Budget, Capital Budget and Property Tax Reform are all in the hands of 30 busy people, who are still grappling with restructuring the Vermont electric utility industry, DUI proposals, and the confidentiality of medical records. The word is that they will try to adjourn on time, late April, but time will tell.