Nassau senior tax break extension goes to Cuomo’s desk

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The New York State Capitol is seen in Albany. (Photo by Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons)

The state Senate unanimously voted Tuesday to restore a property tax break for Nassau County seniors that quietly expired at the end of last year.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) and Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) in the Assembly, extends until 2028 the discount for Nassau residents at least 65 years old who make less than $86,000 a year.

The abatement will not be restored until Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill. Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Phillips introduced the Democratic Assembly’s version of the extension after the Republican-controlled Senate passed another bill of hers in January that would have made the tax break permanent.

“I could put my heels in the sand here and say no, but it’s not the right thing to do,” Phillips said in an interview. “The right thing to do is get the thing passed.”

The tax break, an extension of the state’s school tax relief program, was first approved in 2003 to offset a 19.3-percent property tax hike under then-County Executive Tom Suozzi and was set to expire in 2016.

Expire it did, without any notice to the 35,000 seniors who qualify and without any effort by the current county executive, Republican Edward Mangano, or other officials to restore it beforehand.

The Nassau County Legislature had to approve a “home rule message” in January authorizing the extension before state lawmakers could move forward with it.

Phillips said she favored extending the relief indefinitely, but the bill’s Assembly sponsors insisted on limiting it.

Such sunset clauses are standard because they let the county and state evaluate whether the tax break is still necessary in the future, said Darci Lindgren, legislative director for Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who co-sponsored the Assembly bill.

It is “harder to take something out of the law than put it in the law,” Lindgren said.

Mangano and Nassau legislators have said they want to refund affected seniors who have already paid their tax bills, which were more than $200 higher in some cases.

It is uncertain how those refunds would be paid for or when they would be issued.

“Once the governor signs the bill, local legislation will be drafted and filed with the county Legislature so that residents can be made whole,” Mangano said in a statement Wednesday.

The tax break’s expiration prompted political finger-pointing between Nassau and Albany. And Mangano publicly sparred over it with Lavine and county Comptroller George Maragos, both Democrats running for county executive this year.

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