One hundred sixty-six thousand New Jersey seniors are in line for a property tax break. It’s called the “Senior Freeze.” For a few decades now, eligible citizens over 65 get checks in the mail to reimburse some of what they pay in property taxes. A bill working its way through the Legislature would save the state money it’s spent cutting and mailing checks and save seniors by issuing a credit on the property taxes they have to pay. The bill’s sponsor is Assemblyman Troy Singleton. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams about the proposal’s specifics.
Williams: I think I just made that more simple than it is. What exactly is the “Senior Freeze” program?
Singleton: Essentially what the program does is that it tries to find a way for eligible seniors and disabled property tax owners to give them a break on their property taxes by freezing their property taxes at the taxable year in which they are eligible for the program. So essentially it stops the clock with respect to the financial implications they have with property taxes they pay.
Williams: By stop the clock, you mean they would pay like the first and second quarter but not the third and fourth quarter of property taxes?
Singleton: That’s correct. So the third and fourth quarter they get a reimbursement check that is roughly equivalent to the amount of money they would pay based on their income. So it’s not a dollar for dollar ramification, but it is more of a check that goes back to them to help them offset some of those property taxes for the third and fourth quarter.
Williams: What’s the benefit to them of receiving a credit against the real estate tax bill instead of getting a rebate later?
Singleton: Well if you’re a senior on a fixed income that means you have to come up with that money out-of-pocket, come up with those resources right then and there and for many, as I said on a fixed income, that can be difficult. So this mirrors a homestead property tax rebate program in essentially being a credit as well so that it actually just gets applied to your bill so you don’t have to have that out-of-pocket expense. So you can use your financial resources for whatever else you desire that you like to use them for.
Williams: What’s the benefit to the state? Because the state is not getting the money upfront that it might need.
Singleton: Well the state, first of all, cuts an enormous amount of checks to over 160 some odd thousand individuals throughout the state. So the idea that the state doesn’t have to have that administrative ability actually saves its resources there. And because the way the reimbursement works, the state is ultimately giving that money to the recipient anyway, it’s just cutting the check in the year following afterwards so this way the property tax payer is covered in the third and fourth quarter and the state saves money on the administrative cost of administering the checks.
Williams: The $70,000 limit for the credit hasn’t increased with inflation over time because of the budget problems. Is the allocation set to increase next year?
Singleton: Under Gov. Chris Christie’s current budget it is not, and that is why we’re engaging in this process now with respect to looking at the state budget, the Legislature is now, and as a member of the budget committee last year there was a budget resolution that I’d authored to raise that amount of money. Unfortunately it was not successful getting the passage in the governor’s budget. But we’re going to endeavor to do that again this year because this is an issue that our constituents all across the state are talking about and this bipartisan proposal will shed light on it.
Williams: If the bill’s passed, how soon would the credit be implemented?
Singleton: Typically through the regulatory process, it realistically would look like it would be ready for the third of fourth quarter of the 2018 year, as opposed to this year. Our goal would be to try and implement it as quickly as possibly, but oftentimes the bureaucracy slows us down. So I feel more confident saying it will be ready in 2018.
Williams: It’s passed through your committee. When does it go for a full vote and does it have the votes to pass?
Singleton: Well, if indication was from the committee, I think it would have widespread support if it’s posted by the Assembly speaker to move forward. So I anticipate whenever our leadership decides that it’s appropriate to move the bill up you’ll see bipartisan support to move this forward.