Act 46 'tweak' passes House after GOP delays vote on spending cap - VTDigger

Act 46 ‘tweak’ passes House after GOP delays vote on spending cap

House Chamber, Vermont Statehouse

House Chamber, Vermont Statehouse. Photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

After weeks of wrangling and a bout of midnight madness, the House passed a bill that softens a cap on school spending. They voted 92-32 to approve a measure that gives districts more leeway this year and, as proposed by the Senate, removes the cost containment provision altogether in fiscal year 2018.

House Republicans wanted to keep the caps in place for 2018, while Democrats said they would press for a new piece of legislation to extend the threshold into next year. The Democratic majority feared that if they didn’t move ahead with the Senate version of the bill they wouldn’t pass legislation in time for towns to warn school budgets before Town Meeting Day.

The House ultimately concurred with the Senate compromise, which bumps up every district’s allowable growth by 0.9 percent. Districts that spend $14,095 or less are exempted from the spending thresholds altogether and the Agency of Education will use whichever calculation helps a district stay within spending limits. Penalties will go up from 25 percent of every dollar spent over to 40 percent.

The GOP used the one tool in their tool box on Friday — a monkey wrench — to stave off a vote on the Senate’s modifications to Act 46’s spending thresholds.

Twice Speaker Shap Smith tried to bring the legislation to the floor for immediate consideration Friday, and twice he was defeated because he could not garner the 107 votes needed.

Most of the Republicans were unhappy that the Senate did away with the spending caps in FY18 and many had hoped they could stall the vote until Tuesday so they could speak with their constituents first.

“An accelerated path is ill-advised and side steps deliberation. Today we move to suspend the rules on legislation that happened last night in the Senate after we went home many of us haven’t had time to understand the changes nor talk to the people it would effect,” said Paul Dame, R-Essex.

Paul Dame

Rep. Paul Dame, R-Essex. File photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

The rules that guide the legislature require a day to pass between a bill passing in one chamber and being voted on in the other. Enough Republicans voted against suspending the rules that lawmakers had to come back at a minute past midnight to cast their vote.

“The people of Vermont deserve better than this,” said Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, during one of the Democratic caucuses today. When the applause died down he finished, “This is a bunch of procedural nonsense. If we’re going to get the business of the state done we should get the business of the state done.”

Sarah Buxton D-Tunbridge was aghast. “After the full committee consideration, after intensive negotiations resulting in compromise with the other body, we are not ready?”

January 31 is the unofficial deadline for a resolution because that is the last day that most school boards can change their budgets — many of which will be voted on Town Meeting Day.

“Many Vermonters, including school board members, have asked us to revisit this issue and act quickly,” said Sandy Haas, P-Rochester.

Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, chimed in. “Are we really happy to see our communities suffer and squirm while we delay for another weekend?”

Only a few House Republicans felt there was an urgency to vote on Friday.

“School boards have voted on this. The train has left the station — this is not an emergency,” Patricia McCoy R-Pultney said to the Republican caucus.

Last week, some House GOP members used procedure to try and strip a piece out of the House Committee on Education’s spending cap amendment that would allow the Agency of Education to use whichever spending calculation best served a community because they believed there was an urgent need for clarity.

“We owe it to the hard working school boards who did what we asked – who played by the rules – to hold them harmless,” Rep. Paul Dame, R-Essex, said last week. On Friday, the same members of the GOP blocked voting on the Senate’s compromise on S. 233 that contains the very language to do just that.

“Suddenly many who wanted immediate action in order to give timely information to our school districts are now willing to keep them in the dark,” said David Sharpe D-Bristol.

Thursday night, the Senate compromised with the House and backed off a full repeal of the allowable growth percentage and penalties put into Act 46.

“The Senate came an awful long way from 28 to 1 to repeal everything in FY17 and 18. They came and awful long way toward the House proposal,” Sharpe told the House.

The Senate also repealed the AGP for FY18.

Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, planned to introduce an amendment that would put AGP back in for FY18 because she said it would give lawmakers something to work with when rebuilding a cost containment measure.

The amendment failed 37 to 87.

Many Republicans worry that they won’t be able to get it back into the law if they relent.

“We still have to deal with the Senate and it took us till the last day of the last session in conference committee for this proposal- this imperfect proposal to come out,” said Kurt Wright R-Burlington who supports the amendment. “Most of the ‘17 budgets are done so the year in question is the next one and now we are repealing that,” said Wright.

The Ways and Means Committee voted against the amendment.

CORRECTION: The quote “Are we really happy to see our communities suffer and squirm while we delay for another weekend?” was wrongly attributed to Rep. Sandy Haas in the original version of this story. Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, made the statement.

Tiffany Danitz Pache

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33 Comments on "Act 46 ‘tweak’ passes House after GOP delays vote on spending cap"


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Jay Eshelman
11 months 17 days ago

So Act 46 and our education system as a whole isn’t already a ‘monkey-wrench’? I guess it takes one to know one.

Tom Sullivan
11 months 17 days ago

Thank You house republicans.

Howard Dean
11 months 17 days ago

I must side with the House Republicans on this one. Vermonters keep complaining about property taxes going up, and the Legislature just removed the only way they have currently which would help, as of 2018. Raising other taxes to backfill education, which we have done for 20 yeatrs, clearly has not worked. I think last nights “compromise” was a significant step backwards.

Margaret MacLean
11 months 17 days ago

Come on Howard you surely know better than to parrot this simplistic argument. The compromise corrects a poorly developed, inserted at the last minute, spending threshold which was likely unconstitutional from the get go and was the only part teeny tiny of Act 46 that addressed cost containment.

Do we need to constrain costs and adjust our system, absolutely, but not with an unconstitutional broad brush that hurts low spending districts and directly impacts kids education.

Repeal would have been better, particularly if it came with a commitment to develop more comprehensive, nuanced and reasonable cost containment measures.

Kyle Williams
11 months 16 days ago
Seems like a case of the squeaky wheel gets the grease. School districts start complaining and the reps in Montpelier cave. I haven’t heard of many of the people paying excessive property taxes complaining about these penalties. We understand it may increase our taxes in the short run but at least it is a step to slow down these school budgets that have been growing at 3x-4x the rates of inflation. As far as low spending districts being hurt, not true, the penalty kick in level is variable, lower spending districts have more room to increase their budgets anyway. As… Read more »
Joyce Hottenstein
11 months 16 days ago

Rep Sharpe is a member of the NEA. Sound like a bit of a conflict? The NEA owns the legislature not the people. That’s why every time there is a bill that does not involve education (like heathcare) the NEA supports it then exempts themselves.

Chip Troiano
11 months 16 days ago

Nearly half of the towns in Vermont were negatively impacted by the spending thresholds. FACT, some small towns who were low spending towns ran into fixed cost increases that put them over thresholds. I guess it is easy to sit on the outside and view this move as caving, I see it as respect for our neighbors and friends in those 127 towns to render some assistance and to rethink measures that will work for all towns and bring equity and fairness back to school funding.

Jonathan Augeri
11 months 16 days ago

Join the discussion

Ed fisher
11 months 17 days ago
Tax payers across the northeastern part of the nation are begging for property tax relief , Vermont with its massive majority liberal legislature , spends just as it votes, excessively ! Where then is the fiscal responsibility in Vermont legislature ,with 80 percent liberal legislative voting ? Non-existent ! The Vermont educations system – the legislatures evil sister , loves a move like this . Why even have a legislature if it’s not balanced . And It’s not .
Adrienne Raymond
11 months 17 days ago
Unfortunately, the result of these caps are significantly higher taxes in many communities. My local union high school had a target a tiny bit less than 10% of the entire budget. When you consider how much of the budget is not adjustable- heating costs, health insurance, salary increases already negotiated, transportation, etc., etc.- our only choices are program cuts. The pushback from parents is huge and they are right to object. Schoolboards could not in good conscience make the cuts necessary to fall under the caps, but this vote came way too late for thoughtful changes. I am very disappointed… Read more »
Joe Perry
11 months 16 days ago
“our only choices are program cuts” Adrienne The only choice is not program cuts, its class size and teacher pay and benefits. Class size needs to be nearer 20 to 1, not the 5 to 1 we are currently trying to support. I believe teacher should be well paid, but there needs to be a ceiling. In my former town there was a middle school of 400. The librarian’s salary was $95,000 per year plus bennies. Every summer she flew somewhere in the country to get more certifications (at taxpayer expense) . Instant increase to her base. There was no… Read more »
Adrienne Raymond
11 months 15 days ago

i am not against putting in limits on staff:student ratios, but to mandate those kinds of changes in such a short time frame is ridiculous. As I said cutting 10% of a budget without damage to the programs needed by students is not possible without serious effort and time. Sure you can combine and redesign courses, but if you want to do it “right” there needs to be time to plan these kinds of changes. There are always these stories of outrageous pay, but I can guarantee that isn’t true in my district.

11 months 17 days ago

It seems like many legislatures are willing to rush bills through the house and don’t seem to care about the quality or accuracy of their work. How Pelosian.
“When the going gets tough, suspend the rules!”, should be the houses motto.

David Usher
11 months 17 days ago
Once more the complexity of Vermont’s education funding and spending conundrum has enabled Legislators to cave to the education establishment. Property taxpayers once more will be asked to pay even higher amounts for a declining number of students with no relief in sight. The Legislature has the authority and responsibility to control/constrain/cap total state education spending. They steadfastly refuse to do it finding all manner of excuses to spend more. Capping total spending is NOT an issue of local control under the convoluted funding scheme now in place. Thank-you to those who voted against this. It is beyond time for… Read more »
Chip Troiano
11 months 16 days ago
I agree it is a matter for the ballot box, and that should be at your school budget vote. The spending thresholds do not address class size, the consolidation portion of Act 46 is aimed at increasing class size. The “excess spending” as you put it, is not for new carpet for the teachers room, the discussions going in many school boards around the state is to put two languages in the same classroom to cut advanced science and math classes and to eliminate music and art programs. If you are a parent and think your pocketbook will benefit from… Read more »
Jasen Boyd
11 months 13 days ago

What if the legislature changed this bill to say, school districts can spend up to $14,000 per student and no more and on top of that provided tax incentives for districts that spend less. School districts that spend more than this, (Some of them way more than this) would be forced to make this amount work and would have no option but to increase class sizes, keep salaries, benefits and other cost in line and the State would see an immediate drop in cost.

Tom Pelham
11 months 17 days ago
It’s important to remember that the Act 46 caps apply to only a portion of school spending. They apply to “education spending” per “equalized pupil”, which are both complicated statutory terms crafted by the legislature. Statewide, “education spending” equates to about 78 percent of voter approved district budgets and varies widely from district to district. The “equalized pupil” calculation redistributes the student head count among school districts. Thus, the “education spending per equalized pupil” calculation, to which the caps apply, can vary significantly from the actual district spending per pupil based on voter approved budgets and actual student head count.… Read more »
John Freitag
11 months 17 days ago

So the reality is that Act 46 is simply about getting rid of local school boards and community involvement in their schools in favor of consolidation and top down one size fits all management of our children’s schools and education. Property tax relief and cost containment was simply window dressing, never a real concern, and can now be dispensed with. Folly upon folly.

Ann Dryden
11 months 16 days ago

the circus that Elmore endured is a preview for the rest of the state’s small communities. There is no longer any room for the complacency voters may have had regarding their community’s best interests being looked after by their elected officials. Now, lo and behold!, for all the certainty of huge tax cuts, we learn now there will be no budget ready for Town Meeting Day. Rest assured, the Speaker has let us down in this issue and most certainly his political gains will not benefit the rest of VT either.

Tom Sullivan
11 months 17 days ago

Simply put, we need more republicans in the legislature.

Anne Donahue
11 months 17 days ago
It’s interesting how language shapes a message: “GOP delays vote.” What Republicans did was refuse to suspend the rule that requires one day for appropriate consideration of a Senate proposed amendment (a proposed “tweak” that actually made significant changes to the original House proposal.) Democrats wanted to rush it through under the claim of an emergency, as though school boards were actually still holding off on budget decisions until the last seconds of the Sunday deadline, awaiting the legislature’s vote. When Republicans refused to expedite the process (i.e., “delayed” the vote), in order to actually understand the change and contact… Read more »
bruce wilkie
11 months 17 days ago

T Vermont taxpayer takes it up the backside again. All hail the NEA.

Dave Bellini
11 months 17 days ago
The majority’s long term goal is as follows: All kids will get 100% free daycare at public schools starting from birth. Schools will be open 12 months per year and be a governmental social services/educational agency. 3 meals per day. Parents will have less responsibility in raising their kids. “It takes a village” of course. College will be 100% free right up to age 27, the new age for “adult.” Grades will be eliminated and so will tests. We won’t need “special ed.” because VT will recognize all kids are special and every student will have an I.E.P. Competitive sports… Read more »
11 months 17 days ago

I think this latest compromise on the excess spending thresholds makes a lot of sense. The only change I would make (other then maybe the 40% thing) would be to set the threshold somewhere below the state average.

Robert Finn
11 months 17 days ago

In forcing the repeal of the AGP for 2018, a few Senators have irresponsibly undercut the efforts of many House members and School Boards to implement Act 46 and get Education spending under control. Without leadership and support from the legislature to exercise fiscal restraint, responsible negotiations on school budgets and union contracts will be severely compromised.

Richard Kehne
11 months 17 days ago
As this latest scramble has demonstrated, Act 46 can have unintended consequences for many Vermont towns. Unfortunately, it’s spending caps, penalties and consolidation provisions are inadequate to address the ongoing issue of rising property taxes. There are no easy solutions, but Act 46’s top-down approach has significant downsides. Its constraints, penalties and deadlines, which are intended to control costs, prevent local communities from having a meaningful opportunity to decide what best serves their students and taxpayers. Ironically, Act 46 eliminates a significant cost-control mechanism by removing school budget approval from a town meeting environment. We may regret this change in… Read more »
Jamie Carter
11 months 17 days ago

I’m disappointed that this is what Republicans came up. A better compromise may have been to add language clarify the legislative intent regarding school choice. The focus is only on caps and the elimination of school choice has been left out of the discussion.

Either way, we have now taken a bad bill and made it worse. I sincerely hope Vermonters pay a little more attention to who they are voting for this Nov. It is clear we need some wholesale changes in the Legislature.

Marc Landry
11 months 16 days ago

So this means that the Legislature did not do their homework when they passes Act 46? And paid themselves $25000 for the extra session to undo what they obviously got wrong? And school boards around the state will be meeting in unwarned meetings (24 hour notice is required for a meeting) to revise thief budgets and undo the warrants (required 30 days in advance of Town Meeting) that went to the printer last week? Got it!

Jerry Martin
11 months 16 days ago
Our legislature has failed the Vermont Taxpayer again. A once hailed victory about how reasonable, affordable, understandable, education financing is now gutted in favor of not making the individual school boards tow the line as far as local spending is concerned. Is it time to take the legislature out of the picture, get rid of Act 68 and all other education financing schemes and turn the control back to the local boards and voters? This distribution of wealth is killing the VT taxpayers. It ‘s time to admit that this noble experiment has failed the legislature, voters, School Boards and… Read more »
Charles Root
11 months 16 days ago
Everyone is complaining about property taxes but every election cycle you KEEP sending the same tax and spend liberals to Montpelier. You had a chance to send someone like Joy Limoge to Montpelier yet you still sent uber-libs like Lyons and Zukerman back to the Senate. When are you going to learn that it’s going to take YOU the voter NOT voting for Democrats no matter how long they have served, no matter how much you feel “Oh Tim Ashe is my neighbor I’ve got to vote for him” before things will turn around. This November STOP voting for Democrats
Moshe Braner
11 months 16 days ago
Everyone is complaining about property taxes but every election cycle you vote to pass your local school budget – or don’t bother to vote at all. This March get thee over to your town’s polling place and exercise local control. Fewer students should mean fewer teachers. If the NEA does not like that, they can accept smaller raises for each. If they don’t, they should be accused of “cutting programs” and “hurting the kids”. This is not the state’s fault. But the state does have a role to play. It should change the rules so that commercial and vacation property… Read more »
Jason Farrell
11 months 16 days ago
It’s no surprise to me that Vermont’s former Governor “must side with the House Republicans on this one”. He often has, and likely will continue to. What I find odd is that many self-proclaimed “conservative” Vermonters don’t appear to reflect on why, in this case, that might not be good for conservatism, or Vermont. The adoption and “tweaks” of Act 46 – another law that proscribes centralized government-imposed mandates on our education system – would have been scoffed at and rejected in the past by limited-government advocates. Instead, today we have members of both political parties essentially blaming and penalizing… Read more »
Jay Denault
11 months 9 days ago
Leave it to the Legislature to make a mess. They ought to be particularly recognized this time because their approval of Act 46 when coupled with their previous mistake of implementing Common Core has completely destroyed Vermont schools! Senator Kevin Mullin, then chair of the Senate Education Committee, in 2012 actually proposed the best option of reducing educational spending with S.194 a bill which would have reduced expensive, and excessive administrative costs. Along with his proposal H.753, a voluntary merger bill arrived, and would have supported those districts where the possibility of merging made sense. Instead what we got was… Read more »
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