This Year's Property Tax Rebate Gives Shaft To Seniors
The New Tork Times reports that the 2007 rubber checks homeowners will get from Albany may not be all the hyped up reports have them crackerd up to be -- at least not for New York's seniors.
That's it, folks. Pick the pockets of the most vulnerable. Take from those on fixed incomes, dwindling assets, amd a property tax bill that is greater than the price originally paid for the house they live in, and give back, ah, er, nothing of value.
Time was, seniors were cajoled, lobbied, and catered to by elected officials, if for no other reason than seniors vote. Apparently, State Legislators feel so secure in their positions -- at least in a non-election year -- that they can afford to take from Grandma to pad Junior's paltry rebate check.
Of course, all of this give and take -- with its attendant costs and smoke-and-mirror -- pitfalls wouldn't be necessary if the property tax was lowered on the front end, rather than rebated on the back end.
That would require a fix rather than a band-aid, something that our State Legislature is obviously unprepared to do!
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Older Residents Get Tax Relief, but Less of It
By Danny Hakim
ALBANY, April 27 — When Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders announced $1.3 billion in new property tax relief late last month, they did not mention that older New Yorkers got largely cut out of the deal.
But taxpayers 65 and older ended up with hardly any more money than they received last year under a program that now costs the state nearly $5 billion a year. To be more precise, they are to get an additional $2.50, on average, or enough to buy a slice of pizza.
“I would think they would give the seniors a little more, because it hurts,” said Barbara Mazzitelli, 67, of Oceanside. “People who really can’t work are working.”
Ms. Mazzitelli had hoped to retire at 65, but like a lot of Long Island residents her age, she can’t afford to both retire and pay her property tax bill, so she continues to work as a real estate agent. She said that she and her husband received about $2,000 in benefits last year under the state’s School Tax Relief Program, known as STAR, offsetting a property tax bill that was roughly $9,500.
Since STAR was created in 1997, one of its main goals — at least when politicians talk about it — has been lowering bills for older people being taxed out of their homes on Long Island and elsewhere. And the program has substantially higher benefits for older New Yorkers who are retired or make less than $68,000 a year.
Both the governor and Senate Republicans, the two main combatants in the budget negotiations, had proposed increasing aid for older people, though the governor’s top priority was increasing aid to middle-class homeowners. They trimmed their proposals late in the budget talks to make way for spending in other areas as they horse-traded over political priorities.
The deal was part of an 11th-hour accord on the state’s nearly $121 billion budget, but like most important decisions in Albany, it was negotiated behind closed doors and then swiftly voted on by lawmakers who did not have time to read the thousands of pages put before them.
Under the terms of the final agreement, those 65 and older eligible for the enhanced STAR program would see their property tax relief rise to $1,512.50 from $1,510, on average, when counting both a property tax exemption and a rebate check provided by the program. The actual benefits paid to the 630,000 people 65 and older who have applied for STAR vary widely, depending on their income and where they live.
People younger than 65 would see benefits rise to $1,030 from $867.50, on average.
“It’s surprising to me, because bending over backwards to give money to seniors is standard political operating procedure,” said Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a conservative group, and a critic of the STAR program.
Not that he thinks giving more to older people makes sense.
“A healthy pair of 70-year-olds earning $65,000 could easily have more disposable income than the 42-year-old couple in the identical house next door with income of $90,000 and three children,” he said, especially if the younger couple had children in college.
But higher property taxes have led some older people, especially on Long Island, to defer retirement.
“I’m a real estate agent and a lot of people are leaving the area because of the taxes,” Ms. Mazzitelli said. “They’re going to the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, that’s what we hear, because it’s expensive for the kids and they can’t afford to keep it up.”
She and her husband, a retired plumber, live in a four-bedroom house and are concerned about how difficult it would be to find a smaller home. “You want something that’s nice, two bedrooms, two baths, dining area; it’s not here,” she said. “In other parts of the country, you can get whatever you want.”
William Ferris, a lobbyist for AARP, said, “We have a major concern about those on fixed income and how property taxes affect their ability to stay in their homes.” He called it “probably the biggest priority of our members.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for the outcome of the budget fight, though it was Senate Republicans who said they would seek more STAR money for older New Yorkers as part of a long list of priorities for the rest of the legislative session, which ends in late June.
“We wanted to do, and pass, a much more comprehensive approach to ensure that senior citizens would share in the benefit of the rebate plan as they did last year,” said John McArdle, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, the state’s top Republican.
“Unfortunately, the governor and the Assembly weren’t there.
“We’re going to revisit it, and we’re going to pass a bill to get that money back to the seniors, because they deserve it,” he added.
Democrats said that the demands of Senate Republicans, particularly those from Long Island, led to the diminishment of proposed STAR aid. The governor had sought to trim increases in education aid to Long Island school districts as part of an overhaul of school financing priorities, but ultimately relented, which meant that spending had to be scaled back in other places, they said.
“This was a fiscal decision reached during budget negotiations, providing as much property tax relief to homeowners as was possible in the context of needing to manage spending growth,” said Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Mr. Spitzer’s staff said that the agreed-upon STAR plan maintained increases put in place last year — notably the rebate checks that come in addition to exemptions — and kept a cost of living adjustment for benefits paid to those 65 and older. The adjustment had been set to expire.
Older taxpayers and their lobbyists will have another crack at the issue. The governor has pledged to increase STAR spending by $4.7 billion over the next two years, which means the issue will be back on the table next year.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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Proposed School District Tax Levies