Legislature(1999 - 2000)
05/04/1999 08:08 AM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
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.