This year's check might be the last one you get

ALBANY — If you got a rebate check this year, cherish it: It might be the last one you get.

For three years, New Yorkers have received rebate checks to cover a portion of their school property taxes.

But it will be up to the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year to decide whether to reauthorize the $1.3 billion program amid a worsening state budget gap for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

Some lawmakers are urging state leaders to keep the rebate checks, which this year averaged $490 for eligible homeowners.

"Property taxes are crushing our seniors, our middle-class families, and that rebate check is a little bit of relief that needs to be there," said Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown, Rockland County, which has among the highest property taxes in the nation.

Legislative leaders and Cuomo's office suggested it is too soon to commit to reauthorizing the program.

Under Cuomo, income taxes have been lowered, business taxes have been cut, and the state has limited the growth in property taxes through a tax cap implemented in 2011, said Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Budget Division.

"We’re continuing to look at ways to lower taxes further in New York as we develop next year's budget. All options are on the table," Klopott said.

What's next for New York rebate checks?

The state tax department started in August mailing out the third annual round of rebate checks. In all, more than 2 million checks will be mailed out this year.

And so far they almost all have gone out: Only about 250,000 remain, and they are going to taxpayers in Suffolk County on Long Island where school tax bills aren't due until January.

"The goal every year is get checks mailed to eligible property owners in time for them to pay their property-tax bills, and we’ve done that so far this year," said James Gazzale, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

If you didn't get a check, you can call the tax department's hotline at 518-457-2036 to see if there was a mistake.

Why were you getting the check?

Called the property tax relief credit, New York leaders voted four years as part of the state budget to create a new check program that reimburses middle-class homeowners for a portion of their school taxes based on their household income.

The program was different from other rebate checks enacted at the urging of Senate Republicans over the past decade: Previous versions weren't specifically tied to household income.

The checks have been available to households whose adjusted gross income was $275,000 or less and whose school district stayed under the property-tax cap.

The percentage back has grown each year.

This fall, the checks were the highest of the program: as much as 85% back of homeowners' STAR rebate for those earning $75,000 a year or less.

So if you're STAR rebate — another school-tax rebate program — was $1,000 this year, you should have gotten a check for $850 this fall.

For those earning between $75,000 and $150,000, the check was 60% back of their STAR benefit.

Senior citizens who receive Enhanced STAR also got a check: 34% of their STAR credit.

What happens next with property tax rebate checks?

The state Legislature starts its six-month session in Albany in January and would have to decide whether to keep the checks or a version of them as part of the state budget due March 31.

A first indicator of whether the rebates will be extended will come in January when Cuomo gives his State of the State address and then unveils his budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

While 2020 is the election year for all 213 state legislators, and thus there would be a political benefit to keeping the checks going, the state is also grappling with a state budget gap that could be as much as $4 billion — due particularly to ballooning Medicaid costs.

So the state's fiscal problems might curtail spending.

Senate Republicans, now in the minority, have long valued the checks and implored Democrats to keep them, saying they should have extended them as part of the current fiscal year.

"As a result of actions taken by the Senate Democrats in last year's budget, property tax rebate checks totaling hundreds of dollars or more annually have been eliminated," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate GOP.

He criticized Democrats for criminal-justice reforms, such as ending cash bail, and providing tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, but not extending the rebate program.

"Senate Republicans believe that property tax relief should be a priority, and that seniors and homeowners are entitled to and deserve as much relief as possible. Therefore, we would have continued this important program," he added.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, who represents highly taxed Westchester County, said property-tax relief will remain a focus in 2020.

"The Senate Democratic Majority made the property tax cap permanent this year and will continue to make tax relief a priority next session," she said in a statement.