While we haven’t been the biggest fans of the state’s $3 billion-a-year School Tax Relief (STAR) Program since it was adopted in 1997, we’re relieved that the state is at least planning to administer it a bit more carefully.
Recent reports indicate that supposedly honest mistakes — as Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, claimed her husband made when they got caught double-dipping earlier this month — and outright fraud have been costing the state tens of millions to as much as $600 million a year!
The program was designed to give homeowners (not landlords) a break on the school taxes they pay on their primary residences (not their vacation homes or convenience condos). But the money that finances it isn’t manna from heaven or even the federal government; it comes from state income tax receipts. Thus the notion that it is “something for nothing” — which grandstanding politicians imply — is nonsense. And when administrative costs, not to mention honest mistakes and fraud, get factored in, it’s probably not worth the bother — except maybe for seniors, whose income tends to be limited but whose property taxes are not.
But like a benefit given public workers, it’s almost impossible to take away — at least politically. So the news that the state is planning to at least make everyone re-apply for the tax break (somehow), and pay closer attention to eligibility going forward, is welcome. Obviously, it’s going to reduce the state’s cost as thousands of “mistakes” get weeded out and people who missed the news don’t re-apply. That’s also welcome news, but to keep deserving seniors from getting shortchanged, the state should make an extra effort at outreach.