For NJ voters, a question to ponder: Whether to extend tax break for veterans

If you’re among the relative handful of voters expected to show up at the polls on Nov. 5, you have a bit of homework, beyond learning which candidate holds positions most similar to your own.

There’s also a statewide ballot question, and you have veteran Gary Baldwin to thank for that.

For 18 years, the one-time Air Force officer has waged a campaign to set right what he sees as an inequity: veterans who move to retirement communities known as CCRCs lose the $250 property tax deduction they enjoyed when they owned their own homes, even though part of the monthly fees they pay go to pay the CCRCs taxes.

“I realized immediately that that probably was a bit discriminatory, in the sense that you gave a veteran something and then you took it away from them when they moved,” said Baldwin, who’s in his 80s.

State Question No. 1 is the only statewide question on the Nov. 5 ballot. It asks New Jersey voters to decide whether veterans who served during a time of war or other emergency and now live in a continuing care retirement community should get the same $250 annual property tax deduction that veterans who own their own homes receive. An estimated 3,000 veterans and their spouses stand to benefit from a “yes” vote, which would cost the state less than $1 million a year.

State Sen. Vin Gopal was a champion in the Legislature of getting the question before voters.

“We got it passed out of both houses unanimously, and now it’s on the ballot,” said the Monmouth County Democrat.

Gopal has been working with Baldwin to help educate voters on what he calls “a no-brainer” decision.

“These veterans when they live at Seabrook or any of these continuing care facilities, they are paying property taxes, except its being paid to the care facility who then pays it to the state,” Gopal said. “This is an easy one, this is a small amount of money in a multi-billion dollar budget. This should not be controversial, this should be a easy ‘yes’ vote for everybody.”

Baldwin, the council president in Tinton Falls, found out about the problem the hard way, when he sold his home and moved to the Seabrook Retirement Community in the Monmouth County community.

“It’s a deduction, but it’s not very much. But it is an earned right and you forfeit that,” said Baldwin, who served in the military for 26 years.

Turnout is expected to be low, with state Assembly seats topping the ballot. In 2015, the last time seats in the lower house were the highest office on the ballot, just 22% of those registered voted.

For more information on the ballot measure, see Colleen O’Dea’s story in NJ Spotlight.