Monday, January 07, 2008

STAR Rebate To Double In '08, Triple In '09?

Why Not Let Us Keep The Money In Our Pockets In The First Place?

We've long beleived -- and have posted many times on this blog -- that New York's STAR program is little more than a sham, taking tax money from one pocket while putting it into someone eleses -- usually not ours.

Our local property tax dollars flow out, with no one so much as trying to shore up the leaking dam, with but pennies on the dollar coming back to homeowners by way of a scant rebate.

Pay $12,000 in taxes, get a check in the mail for $300. Get a credit against the school property tax you pay, and watch the school district's tax rate rise to the occasion.

Will doubling or even tripling the STAR rebate lower the property taxes you pay? Of course not. STAR never has, and it never will.

Assuming that the State can find a way to pay for the increased rebates -- not easy with a $4.3 billion hole in the coming budget -- continuing to treat the symptoms while foregoing the opportunity to fashion a cure means that the bottom line on our property tax bills will go up, even as home values go down and the tax base goes elsewhere.

Just last year at this time, the Center for Governmental Research, under its then proactive focus arm, New York Matters, issued a comprehensive report on reforming New York's property tax.

In finding that STAR is not the answer -- far from it, in fact -- there was a likening of the STAR program to the temporary relief to "a large dose of fiscal Novocain."

The numbness having warn off (or is it first setting in?), we have two choices to make. We can endure the pain of ever-increasing property taxes, with an occasional shot of Morphine to mask the underlying problem, or we can make it our business -- and that of of elected representatives in Albany -- to, at long last, find a cure for this malady we call the school property tax.

More simply put, we can either go for the cure, or go broke!

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State GOP aims to boost STAR property-tax rebates

ALBANY - Homeowners would see their property-tax rebate checks from the state triple by 2009, and in some instances quadruple, under a proposal from the Senate's Republican majority, according to a letter sent yesterday to Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The plan to expand the rebate-check component of STAR, the popular School Tax Relief program begun under Gov. George Pataki, would also eliminate the income eligibility requirements instituted last year at Spitzer's behest. It was unclear, however, whether the new application process, which some found cumbersome, would be scrapped as well.

The initiative comes as homeowners on Long Island and elsewhere struggle to pay tax bills that have more than doubled in 10 years, largely due to public school costs. But with a price tag in excess of $3 billion, the plan faces an uphill fight as Spitzer and lawmakers grapple with a projected budget deficit of $4.3 billion for 2008-09.

"I think it's doable if you set your priorities," said Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), deputy majority leader. "We're hoping the governor listens to Long Islanders and other suburban voters for whom the priority is property tax relief."

Skelos, joined by the Island's seven other GOP senators, urged Spitzer, a Democrat, to support larger STAR rebate checks in his State of the State speech next week and his budget proposal Jan. 22. They also warned against repeating last year's spending plan, which, if not amended by lawmakers, would have reduced aid to area schools in favor of those in New York City.

Spitzer aide Errol Cockfield said that last year the governor "proposed and the legislature adopted record increases in property tax relief and school aid, which were targeted to those who needed it most. This year, the governor's budget will be guided by those same priorities" while he works to address the deficit, Cockfield said.

Under the Senate plan, homeowners enrolled in Basic STAR would receive rebate checks this year that are double the 2007 amount, according to knowledgeable sources. Next year's rebate would be triple the 2007 figure. And the prohibition against checks going to households earning more than $250,000 would be lifted.

Seniors enrolled in Enhanced STAR would see their rebates triple this year and quadruple in 2009, compared with the 2007 amount.

Asked to confirm details of the plan, Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Joseph Bruno, would only say, "I can confirm that property tax relief continues to be a top priority." The Assembly Democratic majority declined to comment.

The plan's cost would far exceed the $1.3 billion set aside for last year's rebates.Tom Bergin of the Taxation and Finance Department said applications were mailed to more than 3 million households, with $1.06 billion in checks sent out by Dec. 26. The filing deadline was Dec. 31.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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