In Brief

Senior citizen tax relief bill wins final approval — but fate still uncertain

By: - June 30, 2023 6:06 pm

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, the tax cut plan's architect, said lawmakers owe it to seniors to help ease their tax burden. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Lawmakers in both chambers unanimously approved StayNJ, a program meant to slash seniors’ property tax bills that some doubt will survive until its awards begin to go out in 2026.

The program will offer New Jersey homeowners 65 and over tax credits worth up to half of their property tax bills, to a cap of $6,500, as long as they make no more than $500,000 a year.

“We have heard from seniors across the state on this issue. We know what a difference this will make for families making difficult decisions,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), the program’s architect. “We owe it to our seniors and to their families to do what we can to ease those burdens.”

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill Friday evening.

The cap on awards will index with property tax bills, and the program is expected to cost $1.3 billion when payouts go out in the first quarter of 2026.

Advocates and Republican officials have questioned whether those awards will ever materialize, noting provisions in the bill stop the payments if the state does not meet its obligations on school aid, pension payments, or two tax deduction programs for seniors and military veterans.

StayNJ payments will also be blocked if the state can’t make them and maintain a surplus equal to 12% of annual spending.

Republicans have charged those provisions — plus a recent sag in New Jersey’s revenue — all but guarantee StayNJ payments will never go out. Others noted the $500,000 income cap means the state will be steering aid to residents who need no help to pay property taxes.

“We have seniors in the state of New Jersey today, who under the provisions of this bill can make $450,000 a year and still get $6,500 back in property tax relief,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Morris). “That $6,500 doesn’t come from a phantom fund. It comes from the money that we take from all the other taxpayers in the state of New Jersey.”

Bergen and Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-Bergen) were the only two members in either chamber to vote against the bill.

The Assembly rejected a floor amendment sponsored by Bergen that would have lowered the income cap to $200,000.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.