ALBANY – New Yorkers may have gotten used to getting a nice property tax relief check in the mail each fall over the past three years.
They might need to forget about looking in the mailbox this fall.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not propose continuing the three-year, $1.2 billion property tax relief credit program started in 2016 to help offset New York’s high cost of living for middle-class homeowners.
The program expired last year, and Cuomo’s decision not to include it in his budget plan last month, as well as a $6 billion deficit this year, is likely to spell doom for the initiative, which last year averaged $490 for middle-class homeowners.
“The property tax credit was intended to be available for a limited period as savings from the property tax cap grew,” Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Budget Division, said.
With the state making the property-tax cap permanent last year and a continued phase in of lower income-tax rates, Cuomo didn’t ask lawmakers to keep the check program, even though some legislators are urging the Legislature to do so.
“We have to, particularly for people who are on a fixed income,” said Sen. Peter Harckham, D-Yorktown, Westchester County.
“Everybody tends to strain their means, so our taxpayers are burdened and every penny they get out of property taxes they need.”
The check program was separate from the STAR rebate, which is $3 billion a year and gives homeowners who earn less than $500,000 a year a break on their school taxes — either as an upfront savings or in a check.
The property tax relief credit was approved four years by Cuomo and the Legislature to reimburse middle-class homeowners for a portion of their school taxes based on their household income.
The checks were issued to households whose adjusted gross income was $275,000 or less and whose school districts stayed under the property-tax cap.
And the money — based on how much people separately got in STAR — grew each year, to as much as 85% of the STAR savings last fall for homeowners earning $75,000 a year or less.
Senior citizens who receive Enhanced STAR also got a check: 34% of their STAR credit.
Republicans who held control of the state Senate for most of the last two decades prided themselves on the rebate checks, which often hit right before elections.
Now suburban Democrats said they will try to negotiate with Cuomo to re-up the tax break as part of the budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1.
“Yes, we will be pushing for it during the budget process,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers said.
The rebate program was better off being left to sunset, said E.J. McMahon, the head of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank in Albany.
“It was like the Memorial Day Parade when the firefighters throw the Tootsie Pops off the back of the truck,” he said, saying it “was simply dropping money from helicopters for homeowners only.”
The state in the middle of lowering middle class income taxes through 2025, a $4 billion effort that reaches more New Yorkers, not just homeowners, McMahon said.
The checks were “very ineffective,” he said. “A recurring cut in income taxes actually creates an economic incentive for those people who actually have the highest income in that range.”
Some lawmakers indicated they would rather see fewer changes to the larger STAR program than continuing the rebate checks.
In recent years, Cuomo tucked into state budgets changes to how STAR is administered.
All homeowners whose income is between $250,000 to $500,000 now get a check for STAR each fall, rather than an upfront savings on their tax bill as the program had been since it was started in the 1990s.
This year, Cuomo is proposing to drop the threshold so homeowners earning $200,000 and above would get a STAR check.
“I would rather protect the STAR program that we have,” Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County, who heads the chamber’s Committee on Real Property Taxation.
“It’s nice to get a check from the state of New York, but a lot of people don’t know what it is about.”
Sen. David Carlucci said the checks were helpful, but he would prefer larger STAR breaks to middle-class homeowners.
“We should be giving a bigger benefit to families and individuals with lower incomes,” Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, said.
“The fact that if you earn $500,000 a year, and you’re getting the same benefit as someone who makes $30,000 a year is kind of silly.”
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