Hoping to take some financial pressure off senior citizens, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle introduced a bill this week that would cap school property tax bills for people age 70 and older.
If approved, the bill would give seniors the choice of either freezing their real property school tax rates the day they turn 70, or receiving a School Tax Relief Program (STAR) rebate check every year.
The STAR program is a tax relief program that already lowers property taxes for homeowners of all ages in two different categories: Basic STAR, for those who earn less than $500,000 a year, and Enhanced STAR, for those who earn less than $79,050. Basic STAR exempts the first $30,000 of the full value of a home from school taxes, and Enhanced STAR exempts the first $63,300.
In Mr. LaValle’s bill, those 70 and older who are eligible for the STAR program would be entitled to freeze the full-value tax rate applied against their property to the previous year’s level, instead of receiving a STAR rebate check. If a senior chooses the rebate check, he or she would be taxed at the current school tax rate but receive the normal STAR benefit.
According to Mr. LaValle’s office, the rebate check option is designed to give seniors the choice of having money in their pocket, possibly to pay other bills with, much like a tax return.
Mr. LaValle said on Tuesday that he would like to someday offer the benefit to everyone, but said helping senior citizens is a good place to start. “There are people at both ends of the spectrum who really get crushed by property taxes, but at least we can say to people, ‘At some juncture in your life, you’re going to reach a point where your property taxes are going to be frozen,’” he said. “Between the cradle and the grave, you can get some tax relief.”
According to Mr. LaValle, a similar measure was approved by the State Senate in 2011 but did not move beyond the Assembly committee process because it had state budget implications, since the state would pick up the difference of what is not collected from those who took part in the program.
State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said he supports his colleague’s bill and believes the bill may see some traction this year.
“Certainly, senior citizens have been paying property taxes all their lives, and to be able to cap them, I think it’s a good step,” he said. “I think the issue of property tax and mitigating property tax for seniors is part of the budget discussion in Albany this year, whether it’s through a cap or reinstitution of the STAR rebate program. It’s an issue ripe for discussion, and some action could be taken to provide further relief.”