ALBANY -- The state Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation that would stop the state from sending checks to new homeowners to cover a portion of their school-property-tax bill.
The bill is a response to ongoing problems with the STAR rebate checks arriving late to homeowners who had to pay their school taxes last fall.
“We should provide homeowners with property-tax relief in the most convenient form possible; not create unnecessary hardships for hardworking families," Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, Rockland County, said in a statement.
The measure now heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it has picked up support from some GOP suburban members, including Terrence Murphy of the Hudson Valley and Rich Funke of the Rochester area.
Property owners and legislators have been criticizing a move last year by the Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the state budget that no longer gave new homeowners an upfront savings on their school tax bill.
Instead, the $3 billion a year STAR program that started in the mid-1990s was switched to a check for people who bought a home since since August 2015.
That has brought a series of problems: Some homeowners didn't get the checks in time to pay their school bills or some got the checks with wrong amounts.
The state Department of Taxation and Finance, which administers the program, recognized the delays and errors, saying they were trying to turn around more than 100,000 checks in just a few months based on data from thousands of local assessors and school districts.
The legislation would end the checks and simply go back to the old system, which is still in place for owners who purchased their homes before May 1, 2014.
"The administration was trying to fix something that simply was not broken. The implementation was a mess," said Assemblyman Phil Palmensano, R-Corning.
The problem has been particularly troublesome for senior citizens, who get what is called Enhanced STAR -- a larger tax break.
Without the check, people had to pay their school taxes in full -- then wait for the check to arrive.
The situation can be costly: Basic STAR last year was a $750 credit, and Enhanced STAR was about $1,400 for seniors.
“Many people waited so long to receive their rebate check they needed to take out personal loans to pay their taxes on time,” Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, Broome County, said in a statement.
The bill would also return control of the program to the local assessors. Under the current system, new homeowners have to apply for STAR with the state tax department, not the assessors.
The Senate last month passed a separate measure to try to address the issue: The bill would require the state to pay back homeowners any late fees they incur if the checks come late.
If the Senate approves the bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly on Wednesday, then it would go to Cuomo for final approval.
"As the conference that created the original STAR program, we want to ensure that all property taxpayers get the relief they deserve and get it in a timely manner," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Republicans.
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