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Editorial: STAR rebate idea is still a bad gimmick

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said the

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said the tax, known as the "18-a" surcharge, was imposed on utilities in 2009 in the aftermath of a stock market meltdown. Credit: Steve Jacobs, 2010

It's hard to scoff at the notion of New York State sending refund checks in the mail -- at roughly $450 each, that's real money.

But restoring the once popular School Tax Relief program, or STAR, isn't at all based in reality. It's not wise this year, nor was it at any point since the lawmakers scrapped the gimmicky program in 2009 because the state was broke.

New York still faces mounting fiscal problems and deficits. Shelling out feel-good refunds is ludicrous when there's not enough money for vital services.

Republicans in the State Senate, led by Senate co-leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre, want to bring back STAR as part of a $1.8-billion tax relief package announced Monday. If approved, it would translate to an average rebate of $445 for qualifying property owners and about $460 for senior citizens, according to the GOP. The rebate, which would cost $1.3 billion, is separate from the STAR property assessment reductions that remain on the books.

Republicans would fund the plan by using some of the $3 billion in discretionary funds in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's $142.6-billion proposed budget, but those dollars are slated for economic development programs through the state's 10 regional councils, as well as infrastructure projects and competitive grants for school districts.

Few wouldn't love a decent check from Albany, but don't be fooled: The state has a $1.35-billion budget gap that grew by hundreds of millions in recent weeks because of a Medicaid funding flap with the federal government -- New York overbilled the feds by $15 billion and must start paying the price on April 1.

That, along with continued fiscal pressures, means education, health care and programs for the disabled all face serious cuts.

In the past, the STAR rebate was used as an election-year ploy when the checks -- billed as a middle-class tax cut, sometimes paid for with borrowed money -- were sure to arrive in time for November.

The rebates come at a price -- one that New York cannot afford.


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