The Albany Times-Union reports on "rebate" checks to be in mail by Halloween -- a week before the general elections. As The Community Alliance previously reported on this blog [SEE, What's In Your Wallet? ], the property tax "savings" aren't all the State Legislature would have you believe them to be!
Treats on way in rebate checks
State's homeowners to get some money back by Halloween, but critics see election year ploy that won't ease property taxes
By ELIZABETH BENJAMIN,
ALBANY -- Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno wants you to know the check really is in the mail.
The Brunswick Republican has released information on the amount of money homeowners will receive in school property tax rebate checks expected to arrive in mailboxes statewide by Oct. 31 -- exactly one week before Election Day.
The checks build on the existing School Tax Relief program known as "STAR," and will provide $970 million in savings to taxpayers, according to the state Division of the Budget. The checks are worth an estimated $1.6 billion over two years.
"We promised property tax relief in this year's budget, and soon that relief will be delivered directly to New Yorkers' mailboxes," Bruno said.
The checks will be sent to homeowners currently enrolled in the STAR program. Those not enrolled, but eligible, can apply at their local assessor's office to receive the rebate this fall and will be fully enrolled in STAR next year.
The Senate Republicans, who are fighting to retain their four-seat majority this November, made property tax relief in the form of the rebate checks a top priority in this year's budget negotiations.
Critics call the checks an election year gift that does nothing to address the root causes of the state's spiking property taxes. But Bruno and his fellow Senate Republicans say they only want to help taxpayers and insist their motives are not political.
Gov. George Pataki, presiding over his last round of budget talks this spring, initially vetoed the rebates and declared them unconstitutional. But as the session drew to a close in June, Pataki reached a deal with the Legislature on the checks and a host of other initiatives that added more than $1 billion in new spending to the budget, bringing it $113.4 billion.
The largest rebate checks will go to regions with the highest property taxes, which also tend to be key suburban swing districts with competitive Senate races.
In addition, homeowners who are 65 or older -- who historically have voted in high numbers -- will receive bigger rebate checks as they already benefit from a higher STAR exemption.
Residents of Westchester County, where state Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, is facing the same Democratic candidate who came within 18 votes of unseating him in 2004, will see the most significant rebates. Homeowners under 65 who live in the affluent village of Briarcliff Manor, for example, will see an average rebate of $555.42, and seniors will get a whopping $927.56.
In Albany County, where there are no competitive Senate races, homeowners in Green Island would see the biggest checks -- $223.83, with $373.80 going to seniors.
Homeowners in Bruno's district, which includes Rensselaer County and part of Saratoga County, do slightly better on average than those in Albany County, who are represented by Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar.
Homeowners in the Troy school district fare the best among Rensselaer County residents -- $233.55 for regular STAR recipients and $390.03 for seniors. In Saratoga County, those who own property in the Schuylerville school district will receive the biggest windfall -- $237.78 and $397.09, for regular STAR recipients and enhanced STAR recipients, respectively.
Since Pataki is not seeking re-election this fall, New York is poised to have a new governor for the first time since 1995. Under the agreement reached this year by Pataki and the Legislature, if next year's budget does not include money for rebate checks, an amount equal to the rebate homeowners would have received must be offered in the form of tax credits.
In order to change that, the next governor would need the cooperation of both houses of the Legislature, which at this point seems uncertain.
"That's not something we plan on doing," said Bruno spokesman Mark Hansen.
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2006, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.
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Postscript: Excerpted from A Stitch In Haste - -
Gov. George E. Pataki and the Legislature agreed Friday to send property tax rebate checks to New York homeowners and add more than $1 billion to the state budget in a final round of deal making as the Legislature's regular session came to a close.
The larger checks would go to regions with the highest property taxes, with Westchester County residents getting $373 on average, or $613 for those 65 or older. By contrast, residents of Hamilton County in the Adirondacks would get $76 on average, or $127 for seniors. In New York City, which uses income taxes to finance education, an average homeowner would receive $58, or $97 for seniors, and a credit averaging $70 that would be phased in by the 2007 tax year.
Is it really necessary to crank up the entire state taxation administrative contraption -- determining the correct rebate amounts, printing checks, mailing them, forwarding them if people move, re-issuing them if they are lost, etc. -- to send out checks for $58, or even less? Couldn't they just lower next year's taxes instead, or incorporate the rebate into the income tax return?
Oh right, I forgot, it's not about lowering taxes, it's about buying votes -- which requires something tangible in voters' hands, like a envelope containing a check...