ALBANY — Prepaying tax bills has become the latest holiday craze.
Thousands of homeowners in New York, New Jersey and other high tax states were lining up Thursday to prepay their 2018 property taxes and beat the onset of the new federal tax law — especially the provision limiting deductions for state and local taxes to $10,000.
“It’s a scramble,” Gov. Cuomo said during an interview with MSNBC. “This is what happens when Washington passes a bill in the dead of night and doesn’t vet it with the public.”
Adding to the confusion was uncertain guidance from the Internal Revenue Service this week that raised questions about whether prepaying taxes would do any good.
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“A prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 are not deductible in 2017,” the IRS said in its advisory.
The situation had municipal officials struggling to deal with a sudden influx of inquiries from taxpayers about whether and how to prepay their taxes before the start of the new year.
“We’ve got phones in tax receiver offices ringing off the hook,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who has dispatched county staff to local town and village offices to help deal with the activity.
In New York City, which has always allowed property taxpayers to prepay property taxes, the 311 system has received more than 4,500 calls in the past week about pre-payment.
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“We encourage all homeowners to consult a tax expert to determine if prepaying your property taxes can help lighten the unfair burden,” said City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein.
Hempstead’s tax office received so many calls and emails that it posted a notice saying it could no longer respond to individual inquiries. It directed taxpayers to the Nassau County website to determine their payment amount.
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Jersey City, which traditionally allowed homeowners to prepay their property taxes for the first and second quarters of the fiscal year, is nowallowing residents to prepay for the third and fourth quarter of next year, too.
“It’s busy down there,” said Hannah Peterson, a spokeswoman for Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, about the city’s tax office.
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Although Cuomo signed an executive order last week waiving certain legal restrictions against prepayment of taxes and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an order Wednesday directing municipalities to accept prepayments, not every municipality is taking part.
Westchester County has said it cannot get its tax warrants completed in time, though several towns and villages within Westchester are accepting prepayments.
Cuomo’s Budget Director Robert Mujica sent a letter Thursday to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino criticizing the county for not getting its warrants done in time.
“One would assume this is of special interest to you as Westchester has extraordinarily high property taxes, the highest in the state and often the highest property taxes in the nation,” Mujica wrote.
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Ned McCormack, a spokesman for Astorino, said Mujica was “completely misinformed” about Westchester taxes, noting that the county government was responsible for a relatively small portion of the total tax bill compared to school and local governments.
Cuomo, meanwhile, appeared on three cable networks and continued to deride the tax bill as an assault on Democratic states by the Republican-controlled Congress.
“This tax provision hits the blue states by eliminating the state and local tax deductibility and uses that money to finance the tax cut in the red states,” Cuomo said on CNN. “This is the most partisan, divisive legislation we’ve seen.”
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