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April  17

Can of Worms

Tuesday is election day and school budgets are on the line. Reader Paul Zalewsi suggested on our site the other day that senior citizens be given a break on property taxes. After all, it's seniors who often vote school budgets down. That is if they don't move out of town altogether, selling their houses to families with young children tax burdens. A vicious cycle.

A quick Google search found that property tax breaks for seniors do exist. Here's one in Delaware. But we think we know what you're going to say. What about people who choose to live child-free? Don't they deserve a tax break? Why just seniors? Well go ahead. Comment. But we're going to ask anyway.

Should seniors get a break on property taxes?
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April 17, 2005 in Barista's Sunday Poll | Permalink


It is to the betterment of all to have an educated populace. I have never understood the expectation of seniors not to support schools. I do not participate in many government programs but my taxes support them.

I would much prefer to see seniors organize to reform education. As a powerful, educated voting block, it could influence the expectations the state has of school distracts and be used to hold the districts accountable.

Just think, a public watchdog group who has the time to pore over the eduspeak districts spew. How great would that be?

Posted by: Bob | Apr 17, 2005 10:32:08 AM

When people who are currently senior citizens were in school, or when their children were in school everyone chipped in to pay for education.

Why should the deal change now?

(Oh, that's right, this is the Baby Boom getting older now, so the rules need to change.)

Posted by: Right of Center | Apr 17, 2005 10:59:08 AM

It is a myth that it is senior citizens that vote down school budgets. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently published a report that finds the exact opposite: Why do Households Without Children Support Local Public Schools?. A quote: "per pupil spending is positively related to the percentage of developed land and that this positive correlation... is stronger in districts with more elderly residents."

This makes perfect sense when you add the fact that higher school spending is strongly correlated to higher house prices and that seniors have a shorter expected tenure in their houses: seniors get a bigger present value bang for their buck.

Posted by: milog | Apr 17, 2005 12:24:55 PM

Yes, seniors should get a tax break as long as the system of taxation is what it is. I'm for a flat tax with no write-offs for anyone. But in line with my thinking that human beings get more and more disregarded the older they become, from the moment of birth, the least we can do for people who have been around for a long time is to give them this small break. They deserve much more.

Posted by: Zhyndra | Apr 17, 2005 2:02:51 PM

Seniors with limited resources should get a deferral, rather than a complete break. I know that some jurisdictions allow deferral of property taxes until such a senior transfers the house or dies. This ensures that the senior is not forced to sell the house because of lack of liquidity, but also ensures that the jurisdiction get its take (and the remaining property owners are not forced to shoulder even higher expense).

If a tax break rather than deferral were given, the heirs of the senior would be the ultimate beneficiaries.

BTW, I have read that a much higher percentage of children live in poverty than seniors.

Posted by: mcmilnes | Apr 17, 2005 5:28:14 PM

I have to agree with ROC on this. Public education is sort of like social security in reverse: you get the benefit first and then you pay for it for the rest of your life. Having received the benefit, attempting to opt out of paying for it seems both unfair and ungrateful.

I disagree with Zhyndra: the Federal government spends far more on seniors than on any other age group. Far more than on children. Seniors in this country are hardly being ignored. I have heard, although not verified, that if you take state and local spending into account, the share of spending on both groups is about equal (mainly because of education spending.) This would be an interesting statistic to be able to bandy about if anyone can back it up.

In any case, since spending on children is mainly education and spending on seniors is part healthcare and part income enhancement, the government is doing more to alleviate poverty among seniors than among children. It is also true, as mcmilnes mentioned, that more children than seniors live in poverty.

Posted by: MiloG | Apr 18, 2005 9:39:06 AM

Seniors already do get a property tax break in the form of the NJ Homestead rebate that the rest of us don't get.

And as has been previously pointed out above, Seniors currently receive a disproportionate share of federally subsidized programs...Social Security, Medicare, transportaion, etc.

I'm not suggesting that they are undeserving of such benefits but we should all pay our fair share of taxes.

Posted by: Todd | Apr 18, 2005 9:49:54 AM

Not an unusual argument one hears a lot of lately - I want it both ways. In this case, when seniors were putting their kids through school, the older population paid their taxes to subsidize the current seniors children education. Now that it is their turn, they want to get out of their obligation under the social compact we all live with.

Of course, in the long term, giving seniors tax breaks just hurts them. Less funding for schools means less eduaction opportunites for kids, which will ultimately result in a poorer workforce less able to fund the ballooning demands from the same seniors for retirement benefits, healthcare, and services.

When are we going to get tired of hearing all this "me me me"?

Posted by: Time to say no to endless demands | Apr 18, 2005 11:02:56 AM

Why should we give anything else to the seniors. They get a monthly stipind, medical benfits, cheap seats at movies, and discounts with the early bird supper.

They clog up the hospitals, make healthcare more expensive, and cant drive to save their lives.

Posted by: seniors are killin us | Apr 18, 2005 3:01:20 PM

Why should we give anything else to the seniors. They get a monthly stipind, medical benfits, cheap seats at movies, and discounts with the early bird supper.

They clog up the hospitals, make healthcare more expensive, and cant drive to save their lives.

Posted by: seniors are killin us | Apr 18, 2005 3:01:42 PM

You can argue that property taxes are too high(and you'd be right). You can also make a decent arguement that houses aren't accurately assessed. But a taxpayer's age doesn't have anything to do with either of these things.

Does anyone think Montclair would be as desirable as it is if the schools weren't what they are?

Your benefit from having good schools is the equity you've built in your house. If you can't afford these taxes, then it's time to move on Gramps. There are plenty of positvely lovely areas of this country that are friendly to seniors with low taxes & rotten schools. If that's what you want, go.

Posted by: John | Apr 18, 2005 4:11:41 PM

I agree that a taxpayer's age should have nothing to do with how much you pay in property tax. Not having the means to pay without selling your primary residence and leaving your community may be a reason to pay less, but not how old you are.

But let's not pick on seniors; even if some people have played that card to elicit sympathy in their personal quest to pay lower taxes, seniors as a group do not oppose paying the price for excellent schools.

Posted by: MiloG | Apr 18, 2005 4:54:37 PM

Yes seniors should get a break we don't work anymore and live on a fixed income. The price of homes keeps going up and we don't have any children in schools, we paid our way when we raised our children. All of the comments are people that have children, they will change their minds fast when they retire believe me.

Posted by: Shiley Karinski | Dec 8, 2005 11:06:45 AM

I believe, in Clifton seniors have their property taxes frozen at the amount they paid at age 65. This helps maintain age diversity.

That aside, I fail to understand the assumption that schools have to cost what they do and I fail to believe that these costs net results.

I believe that many towns, with demographics similar to Montclair spend less and achieve greater results. Not that it matters, Montclairions do not vote on the school budget.

What are the costs of not tracking students and mainstreaming special needs students? Teaching tot he lowest common denominator is one thing when everyone in the room is about equal. Teaching to the lowest is stealing from the smart kids when they aren't tracked.

What are the long term costs of salaries, benefits and pensions?

School budgets need to be questioned now, for our own sake and for the sake of the students who will be continuing to pay for some of the decisions made today. Whether they got the education they deserved or not.

Posted by: kevin Lee Allen | Dec 8, 2005 12:07:32 PM

N.B. rant to follow

Why do otherwise good citizens see the vital services provided by the government as someone else's job to fund?

If government does the job poorly, fix that quality of the job it does. If you are retired, you're in a better position than most others to help be part of that solution. Government meetings are ennui producing at best, but to flex the mind around the sausage-factory that is government spending helps keeps the brain active and Alzheimer's at bay.

If you (or those you depend on, be it family, postal services or trucks traveling to the supermarket) are still using the roads, if you use the internet, if you expect to receive emergency medical services regardless of your ability to pay, if you hope the police and fire departments will respond when you need them, if you want public water and sewer services, then you ought to expect to pay taxes.

And, if you want to live in a civilized society with (at least somewhat) educated citizens, and you don't want the poor barking tuberculosis in your face, and you hope never again to read of an elderly person dying because their supply of cat food ran out, pay your darn taxes.

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