ALBANY – If you think you were due a property-tax-rebate check and didn’t get one by now, you have a place to air your grievances.
The state Department of Taxation and Finance has set up a hotline for New Yorkers to call if they didn’t get the rebate checks that started going out last fall.The checks were slow in getting to some homeowners, but the final ones went out late last month, a spokesman said.
“The last of the 2.3 million property tax freeze checks were mailed in February to provide direct tax relief to homeowners in school districts that complied with the property tax cap,” said tax department spokesman Geoffrey Gloak.
Taxpayers with questions about the program or didn’t get a check and believe they were eligible can call 518-453-8146. The line is open between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The state since mid-October had sent out the checks to homeowners in communities where school districts stayed under the property-tax cap last year. The checks were a rebate for the growth in school taxes last year.
Only 19 of nearly 700 districts exceeded the cap, so most property taxpayers received them if they met the income eligibility on their primary residence. Household income must have been $500,000 or less to be eligible.
The property-tax freeze, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo coined it, was enacted by Cuomo and the state Legislature last year as a way to limit taxes in New York, which has among the highest bills in the nation. Cuomo and lawmakers were also up for election last year.
It’s a three-year program. This fall, homeowners will receive a check for the growth in their taxes for schools and local governments, if they all stay under the cap — which limits the growth in taxes to less than 2 percent a year. In 2016, the check would just be for taxes from local governments.
The program also requires schools and local governments to develop plans to cut the tax levy — the total amount of taxes collected — by 1 percent a year for three years.
Cuomo’s office estimated the program would provide $1.5 billion in tax relief to homeowners over three years.
The initiative is among several attempts by the state to limit property taxes through rebate programs. It already spends $3.4 billion yearly on the STAR rebate program, which provides a break on school taxes.
Also, last fall, the state gave out $350 checks to residents with children under 17 as of 2012 who had household incomes between $40,000 and $300,000. That’s also a three-year program, but it will be a tax credit on filers’ income taxes — not checks — in the final two years.
As part of his budget plan Jan. 21, Cuomo proposed a $1.7 billion plan to provide property-tax credits by tying taxes to household income.
The program would be phased in over four years and provide credits to more than 1 million middle-class homeowners and more than 1 million renters.
Cuomo and the Legislature are considering the proposal as part of budget negotiations for the fiscal year that starts April 1.
E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, criticized the various rebate programs, saying they mask the root cause of New York’s high taxes. He said the state needs to reform laws and lessen mandated costs on local governments to drive lower taxes.
“This is what happens when the state gets involved in redistributing money in the name of property-tax relief,” he said.
Some groups, however, support Cuomo’s latest program, which is similar to a so-called circuit breaker that ties taxes to household income. But they don’t want it linked to the property-tax cap.
“Our organization believes we should not make property-tax relief conditional on factors outside the homeowner/renters control, therefore we strongly recommend that the circuit breaker not be linked to compliance with the tax cap,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank.
© 2015 Gannett News Service