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Tax rebate checks rewritten to give Legislature, Pataki credit

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ALBANY (AP) - About 200,000 school tax rebate checks from the state were destroyed and replaced because they didn't give enough credit to the Legislature and Gov. George Pataki, according to a published report.

The state Taxation and Finance Department said the checks were rewritten so they wouldn't be confused with income tax rebate checks, which are issued in the spring.

"We felt the original message didn't adequately explain the rebate," said tax department spokesman Thomas Bergin. "We didn't want to confuse taxpayers, so we expanded the message that we believed gave a more clear and concise explanation of the checks origin and purpose."

When they approved the rebates this spring, legislative leaders scoffed at any suggestion the checks were being sent to win favor just before an Election Day that includes every seat in the Senate and Assembly. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver insisted the checks were timed to be mailed in the fall when local school tax bills are issued.

The checks won't be delayed and the expense of revising the mailer attached to the checks with a paragraph that credits Pataki and the Legislature was "minuscule," Bergin told the New York Post, which first reported the story.

The state is sending out $700 million in checks starting this week.

Homeowners who receive a basic or enhanced School Tax Relief (STAR) exemption on their 2006-07 school tax bill are eligible for the rebate and will receive one automatically without taking any further action, state tax Commissioner Andrew Eristoff said.

Homeowners who are eligible for the STAR exemption, but haven't applied for one, can receive the rebate check by filing an application with the state Tax Department between Oct. 1 and Jan. 20.

Renters, businesses, and owners of second homes won't receive rebates on those properties.

Rebate amounts will be determined based on a homeowner's school district. In the Albany school district, for example, homeowners who receive a basic STAR tax exemption will receive a rebate of $192.33. Those who receive an enhanced STAR exemption, which is for senior citizens, will get a rebate of $321.19.

The first of the 3.4 million checks were expected to be mailed Monday and are expected to arrive this week. The last will arrive the first week of November. They will be mailed out alphabetically by county.

The amounts of the rebates by school district and more information on the STAR program are available at www.nystax.gov.

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