Shocker: Realtor-commissioned survey finds property taxes too high

In the category of Not At All Motivated By Self-Interest, No Sirree, comes an opinion poll from Vermont Realtors on the subject of property taxes.

Surprise: they’re too high.

According to the survey, 76 percent of respondents say that property taxes are too high. The poll also demonstrates that this is a non-partisan issue, with two-thirds of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 85 percent of Republicans sharing the belief that property taxes are too high.

The first thought with stuff like this is: Well, of course. It fits the Realtors’ preconceived political narrative. But the methodology — fully explained in the news release, thank you — is reasonably solid. And there’s no doubt that a lot of Vermonters think the property tax system is out of whack.

But let’s look a bit deeper. The key question in the survey was “Do you believe property taxes are too high, too low, or about right for the services you receive?”

When you start out asking taxpayers if their taxes are too high, you’ve invited a positive response. How many people are going to volunteer that their taxes are too low?

And the consensus rapidly dissolves when people were asked what to do about it.

 According to the poll, 49 percent of respondents say there is a great need [to reform the way public schools are funded], while 26 percent believe that there is “some” need. Just nine percent say there is little need and only eight percent see no need.

To which VR President Donna Cusson noted, “The intensity on the need for change is striking.”

Actually, I kinda thought the opposite. 76% say their property taxes are too high, but only 49% say there is a “great need” for change. That’s a lot of people complaining about property taxes but lukewarm on change. Probably because, as everybody knows, the devil is in the details. And, as everybody knows, it we lessen the property tax burden, we either have to cut spending on our high-performing and well-loved public schools OR we have to raise taxes somewhere else.

Here's another reason to reform the system. From the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Here’s another reason to reform the system. From the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

In its press release, VR described the results of two questions. There were other questions, and VR is not releasing those numbers. It says it “has shared the results of the survey directly with candidates for office in an effort to initiate a dialogue about the need for property tax reform…”

So… it wants to tell candidates what the voters think, but it doesn’t want to let the voters know? That’s a bit curious.

I suspect that some of the other survey results were perhaps less forceful. If, say, respondents were asked how best to fix the system, I’m guessing there wouldn’t be any real consensus. Because all the alternatives are unpalatable. And that’s why it’s been so difficult for the Legislature to tackle the issue.

One other oddity: The VR release is dated September 29. At the time, apparently, it got zero attention in the media. This morning, VTDigger posted the release in its ever-popular “Press Releases” section, which is where I noticed it.

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