Legislature(1999 - 2000)

05/04/1999 08:08 AM CRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
HB 215 - APPROP: RENTERS' EQUIV REBATE PROGRAM                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO announced that the first order of business would                                                             
be HOUSE BILL NO. 215, "An Act making an appropriation to the                                                                   
Department of Community and Regional Affairs for renters' tax                                                                   
equivalency payments; and providing for an effective date."                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 0050                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
PATRICK FLYNN, Legislative Assistant for Representative Berkowitz,                                                              
Alaska State Legislature, explained that HB 215 would simply                                                                    
appropriate $300,000 in order to fund the renters' equivalency                                                                  
rebate program at the same level as funded in the fiscal year (FY)                                                              
99.  If this program was fully funded, it would cost the state over                                                             
$1 million.  Mr. Flynn informed the committee that the funding for                                                              
this program has been zeroed out in the FY 2000 budget.  He noted                                                               
that the committee should have a letter from the Disabled American                                                              
Veterans which states its support for this program.  Mr. Flynn                                                                  
recalled that the committee had recently heard legislation that                                                                 
would make the senior and disabled veteran property tax exemption                                                               
an option for municipalities.  Within HB 215, there is no local                                                                 
option.  Once the renters' rebate program is eliminated in the                                                                  
state budget, the program is eliminated for good.  This program                                                                 
impacts people who live from month to month and from check to                                                                   
check.  Therefore, the modest sum of $277 per year makes a big                                                                  
difference for these people.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI inquired as to how many people take                                                                    
advantage of the seniors renters' rebate versus the disabled                                                                    
veterans renters' rebate.                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
MR. FLYNN said that he did not have those specific numbers.                                                                     
However, Mr. Flynn believed that the program has roughly 1,200                                                                  
participants in total.  In further response to Representative                                                                   
Murkowski, Mr. Flynn informed the committee that a disabled veteran                                                             
must be 50 percent disabled or more in order to qualify for this                                                                
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI asked if a $300,000 appropriation would                                                                
reach the same number of those eligible for the program on a                                                                    
reduced basis or are some eliminated.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. FLYNN stated that there would be a reduction in the benefit                                                                 
level rather than the number of benefit participants.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
Number 0403                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
STEVE VAN SANT, State Assessor, Department of Community & Regional                                                              
Affairs, testified via teleconference from Anchorage.  He noted                                                                 
that he was present for informational purposes as his office                                                                    
handles the administration of the renters' rebate program.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI inquired as to the breakdown of numbers                                                                
regarding how many participants are seniors and how many are                                                                    
disabled veterans participating in the renters' rebate program.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. VAN SANT informed the committee that in 1998, there were 993                                                                
seniors and 112 disabled veterans.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI asked what would a senior's income have to                                                             
be in order to qualify for the renters' rebate program.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. VAN SANT clarified that the renters' rebate program is not                                                                  
needs based.  This program is similar to the senior citizens'                                                                   
property tax exemption program.  In order to qualify for the                                                                    
renters' rebate program, a senior citizen must be 65 years of age                                                               
or older and rent their home in a municipality that levies taxes.                                                               
For a disabled veteran, that individual must have a 50 percent                                                                  
service-connected disability and live in a municipality that levies                                                             
taxes in order to qualify for the renters' rebate program.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO inquired as to the number of applicants for this                                                             
program over the years since the funding has decreased.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MR. VAN SANT informed the committee of the number of participants                                                               
in the program in the following years:  1992 - 1,032; 1993 - 1,207;                                                             
1994 - 1,233; 1995 - 1,048; 1996 - 1,092; 1997 - 1,111; 1998 -                                                                  
1,105.  Typically, the applications are sent to all previous                                                                    
filers, municipalities, Legislative Information Offices, senior                                                                 
centers, and to the assessor's offices throughout the state.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO asked if there is a geographic breakdown as to                                                               
where these folks are located.                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. VAN SANT said that he did not have that information broken down                                                             
percentage wise.  He informed the committee that out of the                                                                     
$300,000 approximately over half is given to Anchorage.  Almost                                                                 
every community that has property taxes has participants in this                                                                
program.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
Number 0728                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
GERALD DORSCHER, Appointed Legislative Officer, Veterans of Foreign                                                             
Wars, informed the committee that the renters' rebate program was                                                               
established in 1976.  He requested the committee's support for                                                                  
HB 215.  Veterans are the backbone of America and Alaska.  The                                                                  
freedoms everyone enjoys were protected by the veterans.  Seniors                                                               
work to build our communities and our state.  Mr. Dorscher                                                                      
emphasized that budget cuts should not be placed on the backs of                                                                
disabled veterans and senior citizens.   He noted that the program                                                              
has dwindled from $820,000 in 1991 to $300,000 in 1998.  As                                                                     
mentioned earlier, the current year's budget zeros out the renters'                                                             
rebate program completely.  Mr. Dorscher stressed that senior                                                                   
citizens and disabled veterans serve and continue to serve the                                                                  
country and their communities and are assets to the state.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS said that $277 per person per year for an                                                                    
individual on a $1,000 budget would not seem to make a huge                                                                     
difference.  He asked if there are other programs similar to this                                                               
which would help subsidize the cost of living for seniors and                                                                   
disabled veterans.                                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MR. DORSCHER deferred to Mr. Van Sant.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS asked if there are other programs available.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
MR. DORSCHER stated, "Not in the veterans .... programs that are                                                                
available."                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Number 1058                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
JANE DEMMERT, Executive Director, Alaska Commission on Aging, said                                                              
that this is a difficult year for the legislature, Alaskans and                                                                 
particularly difficult for older Alaskans and disabled veterans.                                                                
When the constellation of legislation and the budget is reviewed,                                                               
the impact on almost all of the dimensions of economic stability                                                                
becomes apparent.  These are dimensions with which older Alaskans                                                               
have planned their retirement.  Although the renters' rebate                                                                    
program is small, the program is significant for those who depend                                                               
upon the program.  These are Alaskans for whom the program can make                                                             
a difference as to whether there is a roof over their head or not.                                                              
                                                                                                                                
MS. DEMMERT explained that all Alaskans, but older Alaskans and                                                                 
disabled veterans in particular, are facing the following:  the                                                                 
property tax exemption legislation for seniors and disabled                                                                     
veterans, the renters' rebate program, legislation prorating                                                                    
benefits, municipal assistance reductions, and cuts to the Alaska                                                               
Housing Finance Corporation budget.  The Commission on Aging would                                                              
request the committee seriously consider HB 215 as well as the                                                                  
interplay between the aforementioned legislation.  Ms. Demmert                                                                  
recommended that the larger picture be reviewed in order to create                                                              
a humanely developed approach to the budgets for the future.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MURKOWSKI agreed that the constellation or mix of                                                                
all this legislation is very significant.  With regards to HB 215,                                                              
it is a drop in the bucket.  Representative Murkowski said that Ms.                                                             
Demmert's point of the impact of all this legislation is well                                                                   
taken.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
There being no one else to testify, the public testimony on HB 215                                                              
was closed.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS asked if HB 215 is the appropriate vehicle to                                                                
place the renters' rebate program funding back in the budget.  He                                                               
indicated that this seems to be a slow way in which to return the                                                               
funding for this program in the budget.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
Number 1470                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ, Sponsor of HB 215, Alaska State                                                                       
Legislature, agreed that this is a slow way to return funds to the                                                              
budget, but when an item has been zeroed in both bodies that item                                                               
is gone.  Therefore, there needs to be another vehicle to keep the                                                              
program alive for further consideration.  Representative Berkowitz                                                              
noted that he had offered amendments on the House floor during the                                                              
budget debate in order to encourage the retention of this program.                                                              
He believed that this is a self-selective low income group since                                                                
these folks are renters on a fixed income.  This legislation was                                                                
the only vehicle that Representative Berkowitz could think of to                                                                
help.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HARRIS inquired as to the parameters of the program.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said that he did not know the exact                                                                    
parameters of the program.  Most of these individuals are living on                                                             
small fixed incomes of approximately $1,000 per month.  Although                                                                
there are some taking advantage of this program who do not need to                                                              
do so, substantial numbers of people are depending on this program.                                                             
Representative Berkowitz said that he would be willing to                                                                       
contemplate means testing, but it would probably be a cumbersome                                                                
bureaucracy given the small sums involved.  In further response to                                                              
Co-Chairman Harris, Representative Berkowitz agreed that funding                                                                
the program at $300,000 was chosen because that was the funding                                                                 
level last year.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
CO-CHAIRMAN HALCRO reiterated the earlier question regarding                                                                    
whether there are similar federal programs available should this                                                                
money not be restored to the budget.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said that he would continue his search for                                                             
alternative funding sources which he seemed to think should exist.                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Number 1643                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON moved to report HB 215 out of committee with                                                               
individual recommendations.  There being no objection, it was so                                                                
ordered.                                                                                                                        

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