The latest draft of StayNJ, a proposal to credit home-owning seniors for up to half of their property tax bills, would still direct the largest benefits to wealthy households while providing much less to lower-income homeowners and renters. Despite amendments that lower the maximum tax credit and add a much-needed income cap on eligibility, the new proposal still ties the total benefit to property taxes paid, resulting in the biggest tax cuts going to people with high incomes who own the most valuable homes.
As written, the proposal would make New Jersey’s tax code more regressive and worsen the racial wealth gap. It would also come at an enormous cost to the state, with a total price tag of $2.2 billion at a time when the state can ill afford it.
1. Still Regressive
The new StayNJ proposal, a compromise between Governor Murphy and legislative leaders, has been modified to include an income cap of $500,000 and a lower maximum benefit of $6,500. These changes fail to address the fundamental flaw at the heart of StayNJ: By tying benefit amounts to total property tax bills, the program directs larger payments to owners of larger, higher-valued homes. Further, an income cap of $500,000 still includes many high-income seniors with substantial wealth and economic advantages. To put this new income cap in perspective, it is double that of the state’s ANCHOR property tax rebate, which phases out at $250,000 in annual income.
The majority of StayNJ benefits would still go to the top 40 percent of households, leaving lower-income seniors with much less. In total, 28 percent of benefits would go to the top 20 percent of households, while those in the bottom 20 percent would receive only 7 percent of the benefits. As long as the program continues to disproportionately benefit homeowners at the expense of renters, and direct bigger benefits to those with more valuable homes, it will continue to reward the rich at the expense of the rest of the population.
Even with an additional $250 payment for seniors who rent included in the proposal, renters would still receive thousands less than their wealthier home-owning peers. The average benefit for seniors in the top 5 percent (with incomes of at least $360,000) would be $4,508, while seniors in the bottom 20 percent (with incomes less than $26,000) would receive an average benefit of $369. Because renters are disproportionately nonwhite and have lower incomes on average, the new StayNJ program would still widen the racial wealth gap.
2. Still Expensive
Based on modeling of income and homeowner data, NJPP estimates the program’s cost at $1.9 billion for the homeowner component alone, with another $300 million in ANCHOR payments for a total cost of $2.2 billion per year. With declining tax collections, federal pandemic aid set to expire, and no revenue source to pay for StayNJ, this proposal will make it extremely difficult for lawmakers to balance the state budget in future years.
Good Intentions, Poor Execution
The new StayNJ proposal remains too regressive and too expensive, directing the biggest benefits to already-wealthy households. Whatever its good intentions, StayNJ will put more in the pockets of those who need it least, while doing little to support the low-income seniors most at risk of losing their homes.