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Jail the STAR Tax Thieves


Tax (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

The New York State Comptroller recently reported that our state is losing millions in tax dollars due to fraudulent tax exemptions under the STAR program:

Auditors estimate these exemptions cost New York State $13 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year and could top $73 million by the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The STAR tax exemption is designed to only cover 1 property per person since it has to be their principal residence:

New York’s STAR program provides a partial exemption from school taxes for most owner-occupied, primary residences. Basic STAR exemptions are available for an owner-occupied, primary residence where the income of owners and their spouses totals less than $500,000.  . . . Property owners are eligible for one exemption for a primary residence only.

It is true that some exemptions may be accidental such as when the owner dies, but some of the exemptions found were from duplicate filings:

Auditors found the majority of duplicate exemptions involved individuals who received exemptions for property that was not their primary residence or was seasonal property.

You might stop and think a moment, “Why go after taxpayers who stole thousands of dollars when no banker went to jail for stealing millions of dollars.  Let’s turn that question on its head: How can we not jail middle class home-owners for stealing thousands of dollars for fraudulently claiming multiple houses are their sole principal residence? This is especially true when we jail a homeless minority woman for stealing zero dollars for not claiming the last permanent residence she had?

Tanya McDowell was convicted for stealing a free education for her son in Connecticut.  Ms. McDowell is homeless, and used the address of her babysitter who lived in a better school district to send her son to school.  Her son has a right to a free education in Connecticut. So, it is nonsensical that she could have been convicted of stealing something she already owned.  The only question is which location her son was entitled to attend school, not if he had the right to the services.  On top of that, she is homeless so she was not lying about a permanent address.  The state should be more concerned about her and her soon living in a van.  Instead, the state made another person homeless by convicting, and evicting, her babysitter also.

And don’t think this is a singular event. Single minority mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was sent to jail in Ohio for the same thing.  The officials claim that they must jail her because she doesn’t pay taxes in that district.  That is not how school taxes work.  Everyone who lives in the district pays, regardless of whether they have children or not.  School taxes are not tuition   They are paid by the entire community.  Even if you have no children, you still have to pay school taxes. You can live somewhere where you don’t pay school taxes, or even rent, and you still have the right to send your children to school.

And, to add insult to the school district propaganda, Williams-Bolar’s father, the grandfather of the children, does live in the district. So, a family member is paying school taxes to that school district.

It’s a shame these mothers weren’t before  Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald who found that banks did not violate antitrust laws by rigging the LIBOR interest rate, since they engage in a “cooperative endeavor” in submitting rate information to the board that sets it. I would think the same judge would feel that you can’t be charged with theft of a free education.

Now the connection I am making between STAR tax fraud and school attendance problems is based on more than residence.  Yes, the  jailing of minority single mothers was for having the wrong residence in receiving a free education for their children.  And individuals who can afford two homes are going scot-free for fraudulently claiming both as their residence to reduce their real estate taxes.

Both circumstances also involve school funding issues. The portion of the real estate taxes reduced by the STAR exemption is actually the school tax.  I wonder if those homeowners wrongfully claiming a second exemption should not only be charged with falsifying the STAR tax application, but also be charged with stealing education since they are not paying their full share?

It seems the answer to that question is “No”.  If you are well-off enough to own 2 homes you can keep your ill-gotten gains as long as you stop when you get caught. At least in Rockland County:

Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe announced his office had identified at least $700,000 in potentially fraudulent STAR exemptions after an investigation of the county’s assessing practices. He’s given property owners until April 1 to renounce improper exemptions or face prosecution.

It would have made more sense to apply the same logic to these 2 single-mothers.  Nothing was taken.  Their children were entitled to the free eduction.  The only claim is that the free education was being delivered to them in the wrong building.  They should have been told that, and given the opportunity to send their children to the right building.

We all know that the issues in these two cases are about the differences in class and race in both the education and criminal justice systems.  These two mothers wanted a better life fort their children.  They knew that the path to a better life is dependent on the best eduction they can obtain.  These two mothers knew that the state did not provide the same quality eduction to everyone.  They knew that failing school systems are primarily located in neighborhoods where the government has concentrated poor and minority families.

It is mind-boggling that the so-called education officials  would go so far as to push for the jailing of a parent and putting a child in foster care in order to prevent poor and minority children from entering their districts. They might as well just put a sign over the front doors of the schools: “Rich white people welcome. Everyone else beware.”

And it says nothing for the idea of the justice in the criminal justice system that the District Attorney’s and Judges would aid and abet this discrimination.

This would explain why the school officials and District Attorneys are silent on the theft of funds from school taxes.  It’s not about money; it’s about segregation.

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