Coughlin calls for full restoration of homestead rebate program

At the Reo Diner in Woodbridge, folks chewed the fat about steep cuts to their homestead rebates. Jersey property taxes are the nation’s highest, and many who squeak by on fixed incomes feel the pinch.

Woodbridge resident Leo Sciancaledore says he lost out on about $400.

“It’s bad,” he said.

“It’s terrible. It’s not enough money,” said Cranford resident Rich Jordan. “For the amount of money I’m paying in taxes — property taxes, sales tax in Jersey, and you’re going to give me a couple hundred bucks back?”

“I’d just like to know, what are they doing with all the money,” asked Cathy McNamara of Woodbridge. “There are many people — senior citizens — that do need it.”

Lawmakers slashed funding for homestead rebates during last year’s bitter budget battle and government shutdown, slapping a de facto tax hike on 600,000 New Jersey homeowners, most of them seniors. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin says he wants the rebate funding fully restored.

“We told them we were going to do it. We have an obligation to fulfill our commitment. And it makes a real difference in their lives,” said Coughlin.

Seniors and the disabled making up to $150,000 last year got rebates of about $500 on average as a credit on their property tax bills. Low and middle-income homeowners earning up to $75,000 received $400. This year, credits got cut by about half, to around $260 and $200, respectively. Of course, nobody is against restoring the rebates; it’s all about details.

“I support increasing the homestead rebate,” said Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, “because that’s reducing property taxes. Absolutely. Just have to work out the details with the speaker.”

When asked whether he would raise taxes to restore the program, Coughlin replied, ” I know I want to restore the homestead rebate. We’re going to figure out how we get there.”

“This is one of the ones, if we can figure it out, count me in as open-minded and constructive,” Gov. Murphy said last week.

Murphy is pushing to raise taxes by almost $1.7 billion to pay for a plethora of progressive programs. But the speaker and Senate president remain uncommitted, and budget negotiations remain stalled.

Coughlin says he has not yet talked to the governor about fully restoring the rebate. “We’re still working through the process, the Assembly Budget Committee is doing their good work. It’s time that we start to sit down and talk about this stuff in earnest and figure out how we’re going to get there,” he continued.

Lawmakers hope to see a big bump in state tax revenues. The treasurer will unveil those figures on May 21. If they’re flat, some lawmakers may experience significant budget indigestion.