Skin in the Game or No Kin in the Game

Another opinion on the Montpelier election, this time an op-ed published in The Bridge  and written by David Abbott, who has been one of the most eloquent voices in the city opposing the austerity agenda.

Reprinted with the author’s permission.


For some Montpelier opponents of the school budget that appears to be the great divide when citizens vote on the school budget on Town Meeting Day, March 4. In their thinking a vote for the school budget has less legitimacy if the voter, as most of us do, has an income sensitized school tax. They refer to these voters as having No Skin in the Game.

Are some citizens of modest means able to vote for the school budget only because they are shielded from the full cost of that vote by income sensitivity provided by the Property Adjustment Tax (PAT)? Probably so. But here’s another Skin in the Game question that I never hear discussed. Are there some citizens voting against the school budget because they don’t have kids in our public schools? Undoubtedly. We’ll call these folks voters with No Kin in the Game.

Which voter, the one who supports the school budget, irrespective of Skin in the Game, or the voter who votes against the budget because he or she has No Kin in the Game, makes the greater contribution to this city? Is a No Skin in the Game vote any less legitimate than a No Kin in the Game vote? Think hard about the answers to these questions because the answers will define us.

Of course this isn’t a game. Most families with kids take their children’s education very seriously, understanding that good public schools offer invaluable preparation for future success. Many other voters, those without children in our schools, understand this as well. Together, they have given us a caring and generous community that is supportive of our most important infrastructure- the schools that serve our children.

I am proud of our city’s reputation for good schools. I am also proud of our state for using income tax revenues in supporting school budgets via the Property Adjustment Tax. Public schools are too important to the nation’s future to be wholly dependent upon a regressive real estate tax that for many bears scant relationship to an ability to pay.

Every year on Town Meeting Day roughly two thirds of Montpelier voters support the school budget . Let’s dig a little deeper in supporting our kids this year.

3 thoughts on “Skin in the Game or No Kin in the Game

  1. The entire “no skin in the game” idea is a bogus claim, being used to justify shifting even more property tax burden downwards to the middle-class and working poor.

    Anyone even passing familiar with the tax formula knows that the income-sensitivity percentage scales in step with the cost per pupil in the school budget.  If the net education cost per pupil goes up 10%, income sensitized taxes go up by the same percentage.

    The only exception is at the very low end of the scale.  In our town, you need to be around $20,000 income with a $100,000 home before the formula shields you from increases.  This is what I call the “no little old ladies on Social Security being taxed out of their home” provision.

    Although some of the additional limits apply in theory starting below $47,000, I don’t find that they have much effect in practice, at least in my town, until incomes drop below $25,000.

    There are outliers – people with low income and high property value – but those aren’t typical and various limits that have been added to the total property tax adjustment take care of most of those.

    At least part of this oft-repeated claim is due to the economic status of those making the claim.  Sure, if you are Tom Pelham or Bruce Lisman, $250 extra a year seems like chump change.  For those supporting a family on a barely living wage, that $250 is probably more painful than the $1M+ Lenore or Bruce are dumping into their super PACs.

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