The Socialist Mayor: Bernard Sanders in Burlington, Vermont

By Steven Soifer | Go to book overview

This analysis was partially corroborated by The Burlington Free Press. In a story in summer 1986, the daily paper said: "'The city's Water, Wastewater and Electric Departments may wind up paying about half the fees expected to be collected during the fiscal year starting July 1." According to the story, these city departments would end up paying $250,000 for the excavation fee. Most, if not all of this money would come from the "$22 million bond issue to repair the sewer system." Over the long haul, $4 million of that bond issue would be put aside to cover excavation fee payments. On the other hand, the utilities companies, specifically Vermont Gas Systems and New England Telephone, would only pay $48,000 in fiscal year 1986. In response to criticisms that the excavation fee would raise residents' utility rates, the city treasurer, Jonathan Leopold, Jr., "denied that the excavation fee is a way for Sanders . . . to avoid raising property taxes at the expense of higher utility costs." 87

Communities across the country have excavation fees. The fee was labeled radical in Burlington only because few, if any, Vermont towns have such a fee and because it was the Sanders administration that proposed it. (This is true of other Sanders initiatives as well.) The excavation fee established the precedent of having businesses take more financial responsibility for their street diggings, but the measure in its final form was not anti-business in nature. Although the excavation fee was progressive in that Burlington taxpayers did not have to pay for the utility companies' digging up the city streets through the regressive property tax, it does seem that ultimately city residents will have to pay for the fee through higher city sewer and water rates and possible increases in their utility bills. At the very most, then, we could call the excavation fee a compromise proposal, as many Progressive Coalition members realized. And as one prominent businessperson said: "The excavation fee . . . looks good, but either the user will ultimately pay for it or you scare people [that is, businesses] away."


CONCLUSION

What can we conclude about Sanders's alternative tax initiatives? Clearly, on the local level, and less so on the state level, the mayor has changed the nature of the tax debate. He implemented alternative tax policies on the municipal level, as well as raised issues concerning statewide taxation, that are sure to be on the Vermont agenda for the foreseeable future. As an example, local option taxation for cities (that is, home rule) is now seriously being discussed.

Sanders moved the taxation issue in a progressive direction in Burlington as well as in the state, despite local and state constraints.

-171-

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The Socialist Mayor: Bernard Sanders in Burlington, Vermont
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • 1 - Historical Background and Theoretical Framework on Socialist Municipalities 1
  • 2 - Burlington, Bernard Sanders, and the Progressive Coalition 13
  • 3 - Local Government and City Finances in Burlington 39
  • Conclusion 60
  • 4 - Development and Growth Issues and the Sanders Administration 61
  • Conclusion 88
  • 5 - Citizen Participation, Democracy, and the Neighborhoods 91
  • Conclusion 117
  • 6 - The Question of Ownership Under Municipal Socialism 119
  • Conclusion 141
  • 7 - Taxes and the Redistribution of Wealth 142
  • Conclusion 171
  • 8 - Quality-Of-Life Issues and the Sanders Administration 174
  • Conclusion 204
  • 9 - Central America: Sanders and the Peace Movement 206
  • Conclusion 222
  • 10 - Conclusion 224
  • 11 - Epilogue 238
  • Notes 243
  • Selected Bibliography 273
  • Index 275
  • About the Author 287
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