Gloucester County Times

Untouchables On Tax Rebate?

Gloucester County Times — Thursday, May 14, 2009

Editorial

Since state Sen. Joseph Vitale touched this third rail of New Jersey politics first, let's put another hand on it:

The size of property tax rebates for better-off senior citizens ought to be "on the table" in this awful budget year in Trenton.

Vitale, D-Middlesex, proposed Tuesday withdrawing the rebate checks temporarily for seniors' households earning between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.

Vitale wants the money, about $15.7 million, put toward preventing proposed eligibility cuts in the FamilyCare health insurance program originally designed for children of the working poor and to avert planned Medicaid drug co-pays. Unless the funds are restored, he says, he'll vote against Gov. Jon Corzine's 2009-2010 budget.

Not everyone will agree with Vitale's priorities in a budget that's at least $1.2 billion in the red, but he does raise a good question: Why should wealthier seniors get large rebates when they've been slashed for others at the same income level? And why should qualifying seniors in lower income ranges get up to $1,200 back, when non-seniors in the same income category get maybe $800?

When Corzine proposed to fill part of the budget hole by eliminating the rebates for most families above $75,000, and cutting the rebates for those in the $50,000 to $75,000 category, he exempted seniors from any reduction. Why?

It's true, seniors' households do not send students to schools and, at lower income levels, deserve more property tax breaks. But who's doing worse now? A couple earning $75,000 with two school-age kids, a mortgage and the ever-present fear of losing their jobs? Or a "senior" couple, also earning $75,000, with a paid-off home and a guaranteed cost-of-living increase on the Social Security portion of their income?

Citing treasury department data, the Star-Ledger of Newark reports the average rebate for the seniors Vitale is targeting ($100,000 to $150,000) was $763 last year. We're not saying their rebates should be wiped out altogether. But what's wrong with having them give up part of that money to help younger families who may be struggling more in the current economy?

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