Straighten out STAR or extinguish it
New York’s School Tax Relief program, popularly known as STAR, was a politician’s dream but a bean counter’s nightmare, and it took the state 15 years and countless billions of dollars to realize. Finally, it’s going to address the problem of double-dipping and other frauds that property owners have committed to scam extra benefits.
STAR was designed to give homeowners a small rebate on their primary residence’s school taxes, but there have apparently been a lot of exemptions granted by mistake, as well as cheating: things like rich people taking exemptions on second homes, landlords taking exemptions on rental properties, etc.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the state lost $13 million on improperly granted exemptions in 2011-12, but a more recent audit of 46 municipalities statewide indicate the losses may be much greater: It showed that 20 percent of all exemptions shouldn’t have been granted. In a program that costs the state $3 billion a year, that would amount to $600 million!
Clearly, the state needs to start over with STAR. Yes, it will be a pain to recertify everyone, but the state can hardly afford to forgo the kind of money involved. And once it has verified that everyone’s exemption is legitimate, it needs to adopt a program to make sure they stay that way. Otherwise, drop the program, which, after all, simply takes money from one pocket to fill up another.