Nassau Legislature to call for senior tax break renewal

Nassau Legislature to call for senior tax break renewal
The Nassau County Legislative and Executive Building is seen in Mineola. (Photo by DanTD via Wikimedia Commons)

Republican Nassau County lawmakers took steps Tuesday to ask the state to renew a senior citizen tax break that expired without notice last year.

The 12 GOP county legislators filed a resolution Tuesday that would formally ask the state Legislature to extend the property tax discount and give a refund to seniors who have already paid higher taxes.

The 19-member Nassau Legislature will vote on the resolution, known as a “home rule message,” at its Jan. 23 meeting.

“We hope that our state legislators accept our Home Rule Message and submit the appropriate extension legislation at the state level immediately,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said Tuesday.

The state Legislature in 2002 approved an additional discount for Nassau seniors age 65 and older with household incomes below a certain threshold — $86,000 this year —  to offset a 19.3-percent property tax hike then-County Executive Tom Suozzi imposed that year.

As scheduled in the law, the discount expired on Dec. 31, costing about 35,000 seniors a 5.5-percent discount on the county portion of their property taxes this year, county Comptroller George Maragos said last week.

The tax break’s end — without any notice from Republican County Executive Edward Mangano — increased many seniors’ tax bills by more than $200, prompting several angry phone calls to state Assemblyman Charles Lavine’s office, said Tara Butler, Lavine’s chief of staff.

The 2002 law gave eligible seniors a discount up to the increase in the county tax rate for each fiscal year, according to a memo supporting the bill.

Lavine (D-Glen Cove) plans to introduce legislation renewing the tax break in the Assembly with Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead), he said last Thursday.

Lavine and Maragos, both Democrats running for county executive, called last week for the county to take action to get the discount renewed, leading to a sparring match in which Mangano and Lavine blamed each other for letting the tax break fall through the cracks.

“I cannot comprehend how your administration permitted state legislation that was vital to senior citizens with moderate income to sunset at the end of 2016,” Lavine wrote in a letter to Mangano last Thursday.

Mangano called Lavine’s letter “reactionary and impulsive,” saying Lavine’s and other state lawmakers’ inaction, not the county’s, ran out the clock on a tax break he thinks is no longer necessary.

Brian Nevin, a Mangano spokesman, said the state is responsible for notifying taxpayers when exemptions change.

“My administration and the Republican majority [in] the county Legislature froze county property taxes for six years,” Mangano wrote. “We also eliminated the county home energy tax on residents’ oil, natural gas, propane and electricity bills. Accordingly, there is no abatement needed for our residents.”

Lavine, in another letter rebutting Mangano, countered that the state Legislature needs a “home rule message” giving its approval to renew the discount and could not have passed the law on its own.

But Mangano responded Friday that state legislators must introduce a bill before the county Legislature can approve a home rule message backing it.

Mangano and Lavine traded the barbs over several hours in their official capacities, emailing the letters on government letterhead and posting them to Twitter. Politics heavily colored the exchange as Democrats begin in earnest their campaigns to replace Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.

The two-term incumbent has not said whether he will seek a third, but Republican sources told Newsday this week that his campaign for one would be unlikely to get the GOP’s blessing.

County Legislator Laura Curran of Baldwin is also running for his post. Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman is considering a run.

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