ALBANY — State legislators criticized the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday for delays in sending out tax rebate checks and tax credits to New Yorkers, many of them elderly homeowners who have been forced to borrow money because of the state’s delay.
Legislators said taxpayers, many of them seniors on limited incomes, had been depending on their property tax rebates to pay their school property tax bills last fall and were forced to borrow in order to pay their tax bills on time.
“They had to put up that money themselves,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Catherine Young (R-Olean). “It just really is a debacle.”
Despite questioning by lawmakers, the administration provided no information about how many taxpayers are owed checks or when they will receive them.
Cuomo and the legislature a year ago created the Property-Tax Freeze credit that provides rebates on the growth in local property taxes. The action also overhauled the state’s School Tax Relief Program (STAR) program and its enhanced STAR program for seniors.
The state is requiring school districts and local governments to restrict local tax growth to under 2 percent annually and to present plans to make permanent savings in operating costs as a condition for their residents to receive some of the tax relief.
The new system is designed in part to root out fraud and to force local governments to lower property taxes.
Acting Commissioner Nonie Manion of the Cuomo administration’s Taxation and Finance Department blamed unexpected problems in verifying which New Yorkers were entitled to property tax rebates.
Manion said the state didn’t realize that many local tax assessors had data that wasn’t uniform with state data. She also said many New Yorkers sought tax rebates without realizing they already had received the tax credit, and that many local tax collection offices were too small to quickly implement the state’s new process.
Manion said the state had too little time to overcome the unexpected obstacles in extracting data from local governments, to make the data uniform, verify the data, and to create an automated system to process the tax breaks.
She said the checks aren’t technically late because state law requires the tax breaks to be paid by Sept. 15 or as soon as “practicable.” She said state law doesn’t allow for payment of interest to taxpayers owed tax breaks, but the department is working to get all the checks and credits out.
“It’s cold comfort for senior citizens trying to make ends meet,” said Sen. James Tedisco (R-Schenectady). “Throngs of my constituents have called me ... N> I called your department and all Iget is three words: ‘We don’t know.’ ”
“I’m pretty sure if one of my constituents called up and said, ‘I’m 30 days late with my (income) taxes, but my dog ate my application ... N> that wouldn’t work,” Tedisco said.
Manion explained that the income tax system is “mature” and is more efficient than starting a new system like the property tax rebate and credit programs.