NEW YORK – Nine months from now, in mid-October, more than one million families in the state of New York will receive a $350 check in their mailboxes as a part of a family tax credit signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last March.
Three weeks later, those same families will then head to the polls to vote in Cuomo's Gubernatorial election, as well as the statewide elections for their legislators.
"Timing is everything," said Republican Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, who has criticized the tax credit since the beginning. "When the state is trying to make an economic turnaround, it seems a little odd that this is happening."
According to Hawley and other opponents, the tax credit was implemented solely to improve voter confidence and get them to the polls. Republican Assemblywoman Jane Corwin said it "makes you think this is maybe a political move," while Democratic Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said in March that "for appearance's sake, if it's going to happen, it should happen immediately." A spokesperson for Cuomo said he would not comment on the criticism of rebate checks.
Families who meet two qualifications will receive the $350 rebate: they must have children younger than 17 in the household, and they must fall within a yearly income range of $40,000 to $300,000. Gov. Cuomo's office touts the tax credit as a way to ease the burden on middle-class families. It will cost more than $1 billion to implement and will apply to these families in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Although the 2014-15 budget proposal unveiled this week by Cuomo doesn't change any of these figures, it does offer to modify the way families would receive the rebate after 2014. Instead of getting a check in the mail, the state would simply process the rebate as a tax credit.
It's impossible to know why the Governor chose to propose the change without asking him directly, but Corwin said it's a cost-saving measure nonetheless.
"We're talking about the Governor's motivations, I can't speak to that. I will say that from an accounting and processing standpoint, it's a lot less expensive for the state to process a tax credit on a return than it is to actually issue checks," Corwin said.
Tens of thousands of Western New York families qualify for the credit, including 66,180 in Erie County and 15,228 in Niagara County. Overall, the Governor's office estimates the more than one million families eligible for the credit will save a combined $375 million.
Hawley also finds issues with the income eligibility guidelines, claiming it does not accurately represent the true middle class.
"I have a large problem with the timing, and I have a larger problem as a $300,000 being referenced as middle income," Hawley said. "I don't know too many people like that."