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$400 ‘apology’ for ‘03 tax hike still on table

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The proposals - a $400 property tax rebate and an earned income tax credit for low-income families - was approved by the state Legislature, said senior Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights). It was still uncertain whether they would be signed or vetoed by Gov. George Pataki, who has until Tuesday to act on the bill, according to state budget office spokesman Scott Reif.Calling it "an apology for the 18.5 percent property tax increase" that has been imposed since last year in order to narrow a multibillion-dollar budget gap, Lafayette said the rebate should provide some needed relief to homeowners citywide.Despite the budget's resistance to lowering the tax rate itself, Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he was "very happy with the compromise" and expects checks to begin filing out to residents by October.Others were slightly more reserved. Both Councilmen Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called the rebate a "nice gesture" but, as Gallagher said, they ultimately "hope to take the step forward and reduce the 18.5 rate increase." Both councilmen voted against the property tax raise two years ago. Gallagher added that "Queens has predominately small homeowners who will do especially well in this proposal" by alleviating some sting from what he called a "war-time tax."The other major tax break proposal - an earned income tax credit of $215 for those earning below $34,000 per year - also received warm responses.Lafayette called it "an inducement for low-income families to continue working.""If taxes are too high, people won't work," he said. "This encourages them."For Avella, the tax credit was legislation the city should have passed long ago. "It's finally giving the same benefit that everyone already has on the state and federal level," he said.According to Weprin, the two proposals would slice about $300 million from the city's $47 billion budget, with 80 percent of that coming from the property tax rebate. The rebate would help around 1 million to 2 million city residents, Weprin estimated, while the income tax break should benefit close to 800,000.For dwellers outside the city, however, the tax reliefs might not look so just. Some, Lafayette said, wondered why, if the city was giving back money through rebates and tax credits, the state was still providing them with an absorbent chunk of the budget.Lafayette said it was one cause for the delay in passing the $101.3 billion state budget - which arrived 133 days after the April 1 deadline. But, calling himself "a city guy," Lafayette reasoned that the "city is the engine for the state," and often, as Gallagher also stressed, "foots the bill" as a result.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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