Letter Box

Wednesday July 10, 2013

What’s the problem, here?

Editor of the Reformer:

Having just celebrated our Independence Day, I have been thinking, asking myself: What is wrong here at home? Even during these difficult times, we have abundance. Why all the difficulty? What is going wrong?

It is an American tradition to look for a simple root cause for our problems and apply a quick fix. Was this ever possible? We think so, but admittedly now live in the day of complex issues demanding complex answers. Thank you, technology Š Thank you, morality slide. We are certainly making little progress with our difficulties. Many folks feel concerned and disconnected.

As with most people issues, resolution requires dialog. So, where’s the dialog? There certainly is a whole lot of hype over everything. We tear at our national soul like we are fighting over the organs of a transplant donor.

We are killing ourselves, refusing to be denied. That’s what I came up with: We will not be denied. One might even think it an American premise: No one is to be denied. We affirm rights of all kinds to have dominion over all others. Access for all Š America is for everyone. This is the land of opportunity; let’s all be opportunistic. Take what we need, what we want, what the law (stretched to the breaking point) says we are entitled to. We are entitled to reap rewards without payment or penalty. If we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, or no labor at all, that’s our legal right under the law.

Whew! What a pack of hounds on the scent of the cornucopia that served us so well in the past. Meanwhile, we have so drained the pool as to require water management with an eye to what critically serves our common good, not those with a stake in maintaining their chair at the table. We are all Americans, but some seem more so than others. We have seen this crisis before, but not under such bankrupt conditions. Unfortunately, we do not have the leadership generating machinery in place we once had.

The gift of America is that we can best solve our issues ourselves. We must ask the tough questions of even those we already agree with. We must demand the highest moral accountability, not simply expect condemnation of each other to be a good thing. Welcome open dialog ... it works, if we allow it.

Dave King,

Vernon, July 8

The system
is broken

Editor of the Reformer:

Thursdays’ paper tells us that the tax rate is set to rise in Brattleboro by 7 cents, and in Newfane by nearly 11 percent. Brattleboro’s homestead tax rate is rising from $2.65 to 2.72, but if you’re a weekend resident, your increase is only 6 cents, up to $2.57. Simply stated, Brattleboro and Newfane residents are now subsidizing their vacation and second home owners. The Claremont Eagle Times reports a similar phenomena just up the road in Springfield.

How, a reasonable person might ask, did this ever come to be? The answer is that the statewide property tax system is broken and cannot be fixed. Act 60 and its Frankenstein monster progeny represent the failure of Vermont’s political leadership to muster the necessary intestinal fortitude to forthrightly address the basic fact that the property tax is a quaint 18th century funding anachronism that dates to a time when, in an agrarian society, property wealth was a pretty good indicator of the ability to pay.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, what you make is what determines your ability to pay. The convoluted, Band-aided, back-room deal mandated formula which has hard working Vermont home owners subsidizing ski condos, is the result of a failed tax policy, and I would argue it gets worse.

I like our governor, and I think he’s making a genuine effort to address some of the big issues head on, but when a large land owner like Peter, and a small land owner like me, can put our property into "Current Use" and effectively have our neighbors subsidize our tax bills, it is, in my judgment, a statewide moral failure, which my friend John Hyslop once famously summed up by saying that "Vermonters value trees more highly than school children."

My 54 acres, by the way, is not in Current Use.

The solution is not a simple one. In the same way that money drives politics on the national level, you can bet your last pint of Ben & Jerry’s that money’s gonna drive the discussion on this one, too. All I can say is, try talking sense to the people who represent you in Montpelier, and if you’re very lucky they’ll find the courage to act on it. If they don’t, well then you know what you’ve got to do.

David M. Clark,

Westminster, July 5


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