NJ lawmaker says replace tax rebates with credits

April 15, 2008 2:06:24 PM PDT
A top legislator on Tuesday called for replacing property tax rebate checks with a new state income tax credit to help most homeowners with the nation's highest property taxes. Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. described mailing checks as "a prime example of inefficiency and gimmickry in state government."

The checks are meant to help homeowners with property taxes averaging $6,800 per homeowner, or twice the national average.

"Essential property tax relief needs to be provided in a more efficient way," said Roberts, D-Camden. "Allowing taxpayers to apply for their property tax rebate through their income tax forms makes common sense."

Roberts said the move would require a one-time delay in delivering relief as the state moves from sending checks in the fall to giving tax credits in the spring.

The change was also separately proposed Tuesday by Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow, who like Roberts said the move could save money on paper, check printing and postage.

Treasurer David Rousseau estimated it costs about $12 million to process and send checks. The state sent about 2 million checks last year.

"Let's give it to them right on their taxes and save some sort of money," said Karrow, R-Hunterdon.

Roberts said he would introduce legislation next month that would either increase a homeowners' income tax refund or cut their income tax liability by the appropriate amount of property tax relief.

Taxpayers not required to file income tax returns would file a form claiming the property tax credit.

"Every year we are wasting millions of dollars mailing-out property tax rebates that should be reinvested in providing additional property tax relief," Roberts said.

He said senior and disabled citizens would be allowed to either take the new credit or continue to receive checks.

Rousseau said one problem with tax credits is people may not relate it to property tax relief.

"It doesn't have a direct relationship to property taxes," he said.

Democrats increased the rebates by about $700 last year, to $1,051 per homeowner. For most homeowners, that equated to 20 percent of their property taxes.

The checks would average $1,020 per homeowner this year under Gov. Jon S. Corzine's budget proposal, which would eliminate rebates for households earning more than $150,000.