by Robert Maynard
Despite a drop of 1.5% in the number of students, overall spending on public schools in Vermont continues to rise according to a Vermont League of Cities and Towns weekly report:
On Tuesday, February 12, the Department of Education informed the House Ways and Means Committee that school budgets were not going up by the 4.8 percent the department and others projected last fall. Instead, based on 240 of 274 school district budgets reported, average education spending will increase 5.5 percent, more than three times the rise in the consumer price index over the past year.
While the report indicates that our overall public school spending will go up by 5.5%, non-residential tax payers (second homes, businesses, retailers, etc.) will see a 4.3% tax rate increase, homeowners not eligible for income sensitivity will see a 6.8% tax rate increase, but income sensitized homeowners will only see a 7/10ths of one percent tax rate increase, which covers about 70% of Vermont’s homeowners. In other words, a non-income sensitized voter will see a rate increase that is 970% higher and a non-residential tax payer a 614% higher rate increase than the rate increase experienced by the income sensitized voter. It’s like going to a store where the business person, the second homeowner and the upper income homeowner pay the tab for the purchases made by everyone else in the store. The spread here is incredible…..6.8% vs. .7%.
Governor Shumlin referred to our education spending in a Times Argus article this Sunday and suggested that, ” Vermonters decide how much we spend on education every year when they go to town meeting and vote on school budgets. Montpelier doesn’t make those decisions.” Technically, that may be so but or political class in Montpelier has set set up a screwy system that cost shifts the spending decisions of voters onto our businesses, retailers, second homeowners, and upper income homeowners and that allows a majority of voters to pass budget increases to which they barely contribute. This is hardly a sustainable way to pay for our educational needs.
There is absolutely no way to expect the voters to responsibly control spending when most of them are not being asked to shoulder the burden of that spending. Setting up such a highly skewed tax structure is practically guaranteeing that voters will continue to vote for increased spending until those footing the bill decide to exit the scene. Then the whole charade collapses like a house of cards.
There is another problem with this pyramid scheme besides its obvious unsustainability. It raises the question of justice as well. We are all familiar with the assertion in the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Voting is a manner in which citizens express their consent. The problem lies when you tamper with the voting process by bribing the majority of voters to vote for a course of action in which they will not share the financial burden equally. Such bribery raises the question of whether government actions can still said to be based on the “consent of the governed.” This is an important question as it raises the matter of whether the power used by government is just. Funding our education system is just one example of a Byzantine system we have created to bribe enough citizens to vote for a further expansion of the role of government. This subtle form of bribery is but one way that the exercise of government power is being unshackled from the consent of the governed. Another is the turning over of decisions making authority from elected officials to government bureaucrats when a new proposal is enacted. A good example of the latter phenomenon is the amount of decision making authority being put in the Green Mountain Care Board. Between the political bribery of shifting the financial burden of supporting our government and the transferring of decision making authority from elected officials to government bureaucracies, a question continues to arise as to how much of the exercise of government power is connected to the consent of the governed.