Op-Ed: Give active military a tax break

Op-Ed published in the Journal News

By Eric T. Schneiderman

Our all-volunteer military is the most effective in the world because of the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect us. Their service is essential to our nation’s security, but it places an enormous burden on them and on their families as well, and we owe them our support and our gratitude.

Part of the burden for New York families of active-duty servicemen and -women is a property-tax bill that can run into thousands of dollars a year. This can pose a tremendous hardship for New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet while their primary breadwinner is defending our country.

That’s why my office has drafted a program bill — the TRAMS Act, Tax Relief for Active Military Service — to provide a real property-tax exemption of 10 percent of assessed value to active-duty military members serving during wartime, plus an additional 10 percent for those serving in a combat zone.

There is precedent for giving this break to military families: New York state already grants a 15 percent property-tax exemption to our military veterans. There is no reason that we shouldn’t allow men and women who are currently serving to claim this benefit as well.

Money in pockets

This exemption means real money in the pockets of military families. Veterans who qualify under the existing law save hundreds of dollars on their property-tax bills every year — and the savings are even greater when both spouses have served in the armed forces.

As a state senator, I fought to extend this tax benefit to all combat veterans who own a home in New York — regardless of where or when they served. When it comes to critical veterans benefits, there should be one set of rules for everyone.

It shouldn’t matter where you served or when — just that you served.

As attorney general, I have worked with local tax officials, who administer the exemption, to clear up confusion about who should be covered by the law.

As with federal veterans’ benefits, New York classifies all military service over the last 23 years as having taken place during the “Persian Gulf War” period. So my office has issued a letter to county property-tax officials across the state making it clear that veterans of our armed forces who have served during the last 23 years, including in Iraq and Afghanistan, do indeed qualify and instructing them to grant the tax exemptions.

This will help ensure that any veterans who were improperly denied will not end up paying thousands of dollars they didn’t really owe.

Now, I want to make life a little easier for active-duty service members and their young families, rather than making them wait until after they leave the service. There is no reason the brave men and women who put themselves in danger to protect our security, our rights and our way of life should have to wait for the benefits of homeownership.

Veterans Day reminds us all of the enormous debt we owe to those who serve in our armed forces. It is in recognition of their sacrifice, and a measure of the gratitude that all New Yorkers feel toward our servicemen and -women, that we should help ease the burden they carry for keeping us safe.

The writer is New York state attorney general.

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