Galef/Seward Bill Guarantees Firefighters’ Tax Break

Governor signs bill into law
August 20, 2007

On August 15, 2007, Governor Spitzer signed into law Legislative Bill A.6799/S.3944, guaranteeing an income tax credit for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Senator James Seward, the bill clarifies that volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers benefiting from a real property tax exemption would be able to switch to the new personal income tax credit for the calendar year 2007 if they decide the switch would be more beneficial to them. The new law gives volunteers an appropriate amount of time to review their situations and choose between the two tax breaks.

The 2006/2007 State Budget enacted a personal income tax credit provision for New York State’s volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. This personal income tax credit (PIT) comes as an alternative to the previously existing real property tax exemption for these volunteers. Real property taxes differ between municipalities, however, so it is at the discretion of the volunteers to decide which tax break they prefer.

Since the real property tax cycle and the income tax cycle are unique and different, it is necessary that a transition period be given to volunteers to determine the benefit that is most advantageous to them. This new law, Chapter 532, allows for a transition year for volunteers to switch their tax programs or if they missed last year’s deadline.

Galef stated, “Volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers are New York State’s local heroes and champions, and they clearly deserve these tax breaks for their notable service to their communities. This new law will guarantee that volunteers receive their rightful tax break and will give them the time to decide whether they would be better off with the PIT credit or the real property tax exemption.”

“The legislation enacted by the governor will help our upstate volunteers in fire and emergency services,” Senator James L. Seward said. “Our volunteers do a great job in our rural areas for little or no compensation, and they need to be supported. The new law will help encourage volunteers, clarify a problem in state law that would have hurt volunteers, and make a statement about our support for the good work they do.”

Michael P. Wutz, President of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), called the new law a “significant breakthrough for the 130,000 volunteer Fire and EMS responders in New York State. Although legislation passed in 2006 created the personal income tax credit for volunteers, it would have been difficult if not impossible for volunteers to reverse current property tax abatements in order to receive that credit. This bill allows volunteers to review their situation, notify their tax assessor, and make an informed choice.”

“Assemblywoman Galef and Senator Seward are to be commended for their diligence and attention to detail in this matter,” said Wutz. “Without this legislation the benefit would have been nullified for thousands of volunteers.”