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Op-Ed | A rebate while we wait

US Capitol Building US Fifty Dollar Bill Close Up
Photo via Getty Images

This year, working and middle-class homeowners in New York City will be getting something they haven’t gotten in more than a decade: money back from their government!

Combined with the State refund, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be getting at least $440 in property tax rebates as part of the City’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, passed earlier this week. It is the first time New York City will be issuing rebate checks since 2009.

During months of negotiations, we led a bipartisan effort to ensure property tax relief was part of the budget deal, because, frankly, hardworking families deserve it. For far too long, they have been paying through the nose, serving as an ATM machine for wealthy homeowners who have been paying too little, because of our inequitable property tax system. And we weren’t going to sit idly by for another year while Albany did nothing about it.

However, patience is running out. It’s way past time for our state Legislature and Governor to address real property tax reform.

By now, you’ve probably grown tired of us saying this again and again and again: New York City’s property tax system is badly broken, fundamentally unfair, and purposefully opaque. In part, because of our misguided, outdated laws, property taxes in working- and middle-class neighborhoods are skyrocketing, while the property taxes in wealthier neighborhoods remain low. A few years ago, for instance, an ultra-luxury condo at 220 Central Park South sold for $238 million – then the highest price tag for a home in the nation. Yet, that new Manhattan homeowner paid less in property taxes than the homeowners of a two-family home in the Bronx, sold the same year for just $439,000. There are hundreds of other examples of these type of infuriating, nonsensical inequities across our city where brownstone millionaires are paying a lower effective tax rate than middle-class homeowners in Dyker Heights and Dongan Hills. 

It took us and some like-minded colleagues in the Council years of hard work to get us as far as we’ve come. Finally, late last year the Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform that we helped create released a promising 10-point plan to make sorely needed changes. The devil will be in the details, but the commission has given us a roadmap to greater economic equality, relief for overtaxed communities and the end of our shameful current reality. While we are ready to fight to make sure their work yields lasting fairness and relief, these reforms still require approval from the State Legislature and Governor.

We could not wait around for that to happen.

So, earlier this year, we called for joint action by the City and State governments to put cash in your pockets now. Call it a rebate while you wait. Through our respective budget adoptions, we delivered meaningful relief without going through the lengthy process of changing tax law. We used existing homeowner benefit cases to target working and middle-class homeowners receiving the STAR or Enhanced STAR property tax exemptions and earning less than $250,000 a year. Between city and state payments, our proposal will deliver between $440 and $800 to hundreds of thousands of qualifying households. Albany agreed and included their part of the rebate in their adopted budget.

These rebates will help ease the financial burden on working- and middle-class families, who so desperately need it right now. We are fortunate to have the wherewithal to provide that relief in this year’s budget, with tax revenues coming in higher than projected.

Admittedly, however, these rebate checks are just a band-aid. The solution to our property tax problems requires reconstructive surgery. Now, our partners up north must summon the political courage to get it done once and for all.

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