Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Fiscal responsibility? Or Fiscal lying?

I saw a local political advertisement last night, in which two women are in a diner, talking. One has had a fight with her husband, because she broke the family budget by spending too much on the kids’ school supplies. It seems that she had been hoping the STAR rebate check would come in to cover it.

STAR — the New York State School TAx Relief program — is a program that reduces school taxes for homeowners. The first $30,000 of the assessed value of your primary residence, if you own it, is not subject to school tax (and there are further rules for older people).

In the ad, after the two women set up the situation, the waitress comes over:

Waitress: So, what can I get you girls?

Woman: How about my STAR rebate check? [Smirks.]

Waitress: Can’t help you there. Last year, Senator Suzi Oppenheimer did away with them. [She enunciates the senator’s name especially clearly.]

Woman: So, while I’m trying to make ends meet, Senator Oppenheimer is making it even harder?

Waitress: Can you believe it?

Voice over: Paid for by New Yorkers for Fiscal Responsibility.

Can you believe it, indeed? You shouldn’t.

First, of course, Senator Oppenheimer did nothing all by herself. The New York State Senate has 62 members, and any repeal has to pass with a majority vote.

But what is it that they did away with, according to the advert? The STAR program?

No, look at it carefully. They did away with the STAR rebate checks. The program is still there, reducing our school tax just as it had been.

[Update, 16:00: I’ve made an important error below, and part of the tax reduction has been repealed. Please see the comments.]

See, what used to happen is that we had to pay the full tax, and we had to apply for the rebate. And then, later, the state would send us rebate checks. But that meant that we paid the money up front and got it back later. It also meant that the state had to spend a lot of money processing applications and issuing checks.

What has changed is that we keep the money all along. The STAR rebate has now become a STAR exemption, and it’s calculated into our school taxes from the beginning. There’s no rebate check because we never had to pay the money in the first place. That’s better than a rebate check, and it saves the state a significant expense.

That sounds like fiscal responsibility to me. And this group with the misleading ad is just full of crap.


Brent said...

@Barry - your first mistake is assuming that facts should be allowed to interfere with political polemics.

Eagle said...

Actually that's not correct.

The basic STAR exemption was always, as you describe, an exemption. "Middle Class STAR" used to be an additional rebate, and was repealed as part of the 2009 budget. That budget passed the NY Senate by a vote of 32-30, which means that every Democratic senator was technically "the deciding vote", at least in the sense that they could have saved it had they chose to.

Barry Leiba said...

Eagle is absolutely right, and thanks for explaining it clearly and giving me the right phrase for finding the information that I couldn't find before.

What I had missed was that the rebate checks were, indeed, part of a separate program called "Middle Class STAR", which was enacted in 2006 and gave rebates for three years. Because of the "unsustainable" budget deficit in 2009, the 2009 budget repealed that program (while not affecting the regular STAR program).

So what I say above is wrong: the New York State Senate Democrats did remove a tax rebate, resulting in less money in the taxpayers' pockets (several hundreds of dollars for most residents, and over a thousand for some).

I still think the ad is misleading for singling out any particular senator for attack, and I point out that the vote was on the budget as a whole — holding one's vote out on a large package because of a single item is something that one has to be extremely careful with, and the Republicans who voted against the budget didn't do so on that issue alone either.

That said, the ad is not as egregiously misleading as I'd thought when I wrote this.

Brent said...

Of course one could say that the politician involved made the hard choices necessary to balance the state budget, even when the results would not be popular with her constituency.