Senate passes bill to penalize state for late STAR checks

The state Senate voted unanimously on Monday for a bill that would require the state to pay interest to homeowners if it mails them their STAR checks late, a reaction to the debacle that ensued after the state made a major change last year in the two-decade-old tax relief system.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Cathy Young and approved 61-0, would require the state to pay the homeowner interest for each day after Sept. 15 that the check is postmarked. The state would also have to reimburse homeowners for any late penalties their school districts charge them if they pay their tax bills late. The proposal had no Assembly sponsor as of Tuesday.

Sept. 15 was the date by which the Department of Taxation and Finance was supposed to have mailed payments to the first enrollees under the new STAR system, which forces new homeowners to get a check from Albany instead of having hundreds of dollars deducted from their school tax bills. In reality, the department first made a mess by mailing taxpayers the wrong amounts and then failed to send checks on time, forcing homeowners to pay their full tax bills without the substantial STAR savings. It has taken months for some of those checks to arrive.

Sen. David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat, has legislation pending that would force the state to pay homeowners a 5 percent penalty for STAR payments made after Sept. 30 and an additional 1 percent for each additional month of waiting. Carlucci also has a separate bill to simply repeal the STAR change made last year.

Senators and Assembly members grilled the department’s acting commissioner last week about the STAR fiasco. “It just seems to me that it’s an unworkable system,” Young said during that hearing, referring to the tight timeline the state had set itself to distribute checks to homeowners in time to pay their September school tax bills.

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