Two-house bill would undo change in STAR tax-relief program (updated)

A bill introduced first in the Assembly and then in the Senate last week would reverse a major change made last year in the STAR program and help homeowners snarled in the ensuing fiasco make the transition back to the longstanding method in which the state provided that tax relief.

(Update: the Assembly passed the bill today with a resounding vote of 146-0. The Senate hasn’t taken it up yet.)

The Assembly bill was sponsored by Sandy Galef, a Westchester County Democrat who leads the Real Property Taxation Committee, and co-sponsored by 38 fellow Democrats, including Kevin Cahill of Kingston; Aileen Gunther of Forestburgh; Frank Skartados of Milton; and James Skoufis of Woodbury. (A bunch of Republicans, including Karl Brabenec of Deerpark, have now signed on as cosponsors, bringing the total to 60.) The Senate bill was sponsored by Terrence Murphy, a Westchester County Republican, and co-sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats. (Update: there are now six co-sponsors, including Andrew Stewart Cousins, the Democratic minority leader)

The proposal would reverse the state’s conversion of the two-decade-old STAR exemption on school tax bills into a rebate check for all new homeowners who qualify for the assistance – a switch that the state bungled by keeping households waiting months for their checks after having to pay their full school tax bills. Under the legislation, the state would restore the STAR discount on school taxes for all eligible homeowners and take steps to ensure that those affected by the transition get the aid they deserve.

Local Assembly members issued the following statements in support after the bill’s introduction:

“The rebate system caused far too many problems for homeowners who had to dip into their savings or struggled to pay their local taxes while waiting for a rebate check. I have heard the concerns of my constituents and will work to pass this legislation as quickly as possible.” – James Skoufis

“Homeowners have come to rely on the relief provided by the STAR Program.  The changes that were implemented resulted in tremendous strain and extraordinary frustration on too many New Yorkers, including myself.  This legislation will reverse those changes and revert the program back to the way it was.  Being a homeowner is hard enough without more money leaving your pocket.” – Aileen Gunther

“The changes to the STAR program that were included in last year’s budget were unnecessary and harmed many Hudson Valley families. This year we need to correct this injustice, and ensure that homeowners aren’t stuck paying their school tax bills without the assistance of STAR relief and waiting months for the state to send a reimbursement check.” – Frank Skartados

Update: Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark, issued this statement after the Assembly’s unanimous approval of the bill on Wednesday:

“Gov. Cuomo’s paper check system has been an unmitigated disaster and many residents still have not received their payments despite taxes being due many months ago. Why is it that whenever someone owes the state money collection is not an issue, but when it’s the other way around it takes months to cut a check. I applaud my colleagues in the Legislature for passing this bill and look forward to the Senate following suit.”

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