Assemblymembers representing Westchester and Rockland Counties gathered today with representatives from the New York State Assessors' Association to call on Governor Cuomo to stop making further changes to the STAR and Enhanced STAR programs in the 2020 budget. This program has been modified every year for the last five budget cycles, which Westchester and Rockland Assemblymembers say has caused unnecessary confusion for their constituencies. Assemblymembers sent a letter to the Governor outlining this request.
The STAR Program offers a tax reduction for property owners by lowering the amount they owe in school taxes. It is one of the most popular tax benefits in New York State. And yet, this vital program is brought to the negotiating table every year during the budget process, resulting in a hodge-podge of rules and regulations that seem to get more complicated every year.
Over the last five budget cycles, the state has modified the income level for eligibility, the registration and verification process, and the involvement of local assessor offices. Other changes include:
- The STAR exemption was converted to a credit for many recipients, so that they now receive a tax credit in the mail rather than having the amount automatically deducted from their school taxes. This means homeowners will have to pay more up front and wait to get their reimbursement in the mail.
- Enhanced STAR, a program offering additional support to senior citizens, now requires recipients to enroll in an income-verification program in order to receive their rebate.
- Every year, the base figure for program eligibility changes because the state uses a very complicated formula. This can often lead a homeowner to believe they should be receiving more, or sometimes less, in their Enhanced STAR benefit amount, when in reality they are receiving the correct amount.
- A zero percent cap was implemented in last years budget, limiting annual growth in the program.
For many New Yorkers, having to budget for the instability of this benefit that they are owed causes a real financial burden. The Assembly delegation from Westchester and Rockland is requesting that the Governor make for no further cuts or changes to the STAR program, other than enhancing the programs value or increasing the amount of people enrolled in the benefit.
Assemblywoman Galef (D-Ossining) said, We cannot continue to negotiate away this vital tax benefit year after year in the budget. I have seen a steady increase in constituent outreach over the last few years from STAR and Enhanced STAR recipients who are simply unable to wrap their heads around the changes to their benefit. Lets have STAR consistency in the 2020-2021 state budget.
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) said, After years of changes to the STAR program, taxpayers deserve a break. STAR is New Yorks most successful and impactful tax relief program and we must ensure that there are no further reductions in this years budget that would negatively affect middle class families. The STAR program is often the difference in whether residents are able to afford their property taxes and stay in their homes. Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski.
Scott Shedler, IAO, president of the New York State Assessor Association, said, Assessors from all over the state have told me that the yearly changes to the STAR program cause confusion and frustration for homeowners, who often seek assistance from their local assessors office. I stand with the Assembly members from Westchester and Rockland counties in asking Gov. Cuomo to stop making changes to the program. I look forward to working with the Assembly, the State Senate and the Governor to come up with a successful plan that will benefit all residents of New York.
Assemblyman Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) said, The STAR and Enhanced STAR programs have been subjected to revisions over the years. I believe it is time to put an end to these revisions and maintain a consistent program. The 2020-2021 state budget should end this trend so the residents in the 89th Assembly District as well as the entire state can enjoy the benefits provided.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) said, The STAR program is the most successful state property tax relief program. STAR and Enhanced STAR benefits both middle class families and seniors by helping to alleviate the burden of school property taxes. We know from past years that changes to STAR leads to taxpayer confusion and unnecessary stress on seniors, especially those living on fixed incomes. Consider too, that our financially-stressed school districts rely on STAR for much needed revenue. Continuing to make changes to STAR will only erode community support for our schools.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) said, Westchester County has the highest property taxes in the nation, and STAR is the one program that addresses that problem. Over the last few years, my office has received more questions on STAR than any other benefit or program offered by the state, many of them from confused and concerned residents and taxpayers, often seniors on a fixed income. Our residents deserve some stability and peace of mind in the 2020 budget when it comes to STAR.
Assemblyman Abinanti (D-Tarrytown) said, The STAR programs that reduce our school taxes are even more important now that the Federal government has severely limited property tax deductions. The Governor should not further diminish the STAR programs.
New Yorkers who qualify for STAR school property tax reductions deserve a simple, predictable program spared from endless tinkering and changes that leave them wondering if the check is really in the mail, said Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-White Plains). Lets protect our taxpayers from further frustration and restore this popular tax benefit to its historic level of helpfulness, especially to seniors."
Assemblyman Nader Sayegh (D-Yonkers) said, The STAR and Enhanced STAR tax credits are invaluable resources that families and seniors in my district have counted on for many years. Unfortunately, at the behest of the Governor, this once reliable program has been impacted with unwarranted changes which have brought economic uncertainty into the lives of many of our neighbors. I stand in solidarity with my colleagues in the Westchester and Rockland delegations in denouncing these changes and ask Governor Cuomo to support STAR consistency in the upcoming legislative session.