Who isn’t feeling the pinch from $5 per gallon gas prices? Or higher prices at the supermarket and at restaurants? And, borrowing is about to cost more, too, because interest rates are going up, a pinch you’ll start to feel soon if you carry credit card balances or plan to take out a car or home loan.
Affordability has been a challenge for Westchester residents for years. The recent spike in inflation, now rising nationally at an annual rate of 8.6%, has only deepened the problem. For that, we mainly have COVID-driven government stimulus, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and continuing supply chain problems to thank. Sure, it’s been worse (if you can remember 21% interest rates in the early 1980s), but, for the most part, this is not exactly the bright economic picture we expected to see in 2022.
Higher interest rates are one of the only tools that federal officials have at their disposal to fight inflation. Cool the economy, lower consumer demand for goods and services, and then, the theory goes, prices should start to rise more slowly. It’s tough medicine, especially after several years of enjoying historically low rates.
Against this uneasy backdrop, New Yorkers have been given a bit of financial relief. It comes in the form of modest tax breaks and rebates. On their own, none of these measures is going to make a big difference. But, especially in today’s shaky economic environment, every little bit helps.
Under a new program called the Homeowner Tax Rebate Credit, state residents have just started to receive checks in the mail. It’s a one-year program to provide property tax relief in 2022. New Yorkers qualify for HTRC if they are also eligible for the STAR program.
The New York State School Tax Relief program was introduced in 1997 and is designed to reduce school district property taxes on New Yorkers’ primary residences. Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislators approved the additional tax rebate program in the 2022 budget in early April, at a cost of $2.2 billion.
The HTRC check goes to homeowners who make less than $250,000 a year. The governor has said it is the largest rebate ever given to New Yorkers.
In January, the governor said the money would come in the fall, around the time when STAR checks arrive before school tax payments are due. In fact, checks from the special rebate program are arriving earlier than expected, just in time for the primary elections for the governor and state Assemblymembers on June 28.
“Given rising costs and national inflation, the Department of Tax and Finance has been working to deliver these benefits to eligible homeowners as quickly as practicable and not delay relief at a time when so many New Yorkers are struggling,” said a spokesperson for the governor, Hazel Crampton-Hays.
Then, there’s gas. Local residents are no strangers to pain at the pump, as we always seem to pay more for gas than our other Westchester neighbors. Today, given the global rise in gas prices and depending on the type of vehicle you drive, it’s routine to shell out $75 to fill up. Several initiatives have been passed to ease some of the bite.
Starting June 1, New York state suspended collection of some fuel taxes. The “gas tax holiday” continues until the end of the year. The governor said in announcing the measure, “New York is providing some $609 million in direct relief to New Yorkers — a critical lifeline for those who need it most.” Specifically, the state is suspending the following taxes on gas and diesel fuel: excise tax; prepaid sales tax and state sales and use taxes; and additional state sales and use tax imposed in the greater New York commuter district. The state collects about 33-cents per gallon of gas. The tax holiday suspends about 16-cents per gallon, or half of that total.
The county has taken similar steps to soften the blow of rising gas prices. Westchester is one of roughly a dozen counties in the state that passed legislation authorizing it to collect tax only on the first $3 charged per gallon of gas or diesel fuel, regardless of the actual price at the pump. County Executive George Latimer signed into law the cap at the end of April. It also took effect June 1.
The gas relief measures don’t amount to much, but it was still good to see an announcement Thursday from New York attorney general, Letitia James, that the state means business when it comes to enforcing the tax suspension. The AG’s office said it “has informed gas stations of their legal obligation to comply with the statewide tax requirements and any local tax rate change.” Ms. James also encouraged New Yorkers to be on the lookout for violators, saying, “I encourage consumers who suspect that their gas station is not following the rules to contact my office.”
We’re not quite sure how anyone could actually spot such violations, but it’s good to know we’ve got the state’s top lawyer on our side when it comes to saving money on gas.