WILDWOOD — A veterans’ tax issue is taking center stage in Nov. 5 election, when voters will decide on Public Question No. 1.
The question calls for the state constitution to be changed to allow veterans living in continuing care communities to get the $250 property tax deduction they now only get if they are property owners.
“They deserve it regardless of where they live,” said state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak at a press conference Monday at the Wildwood Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as he urged people to vote “yes” on Question 1.
Andrzejczak and Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam, all D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, drew attention to the ballot question and to a package of a dozen pending bills to benefit veterans at the event, where Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, also spoke.
Coughlin said Democrats have recently doubled the veterans’ income tax deduction from $3,000 to $6,000, designated a Women Veterans Appreciation Day and made it possible for municipalities to offer disabled vets complete property tax exemptions.
“But I know we can do more,” Coughlin said.
Veterans advocate and military historian Paul Sutton, 75, of Dennis Township, a Vietnam veteran who did two tours of duty, said many of the bills in the package have been stalled in the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs committee.
“It’s ironic the speaker would come and talk about bills hanging around for some months,” said Sutton, who attended the press conference and said he expected to hear about a package of new bills. “Some of them have been in the hopper in Trenton as far back as February.
Sutton chalked it up to “public theater a week out from the election,” as the 1st District legislators are all on the ballot.
“None of us have a problem re-electing these three guys,” Sutton said, calling Andrzejczak and Land friends and Milam, the newest legislator on the team, someone the veterans community is getting to know.
Andrzejczak, Land and Milam are running for re-election against Republican state Senate candidate Mike Testa, a Vineland attorney, and Assembly candidates Eric Simonsen, Lower Township mayor and educator; and Antwan McClellan, Ocean City councilman and personnel director for Cape May County Sheriff Robert Nolan.
Sutton said he saw Monday as a chance to ask Coughlin to help move many of the bills that have passed the Senate and are stuck in the Assembly — especially in the Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.
There haven’t been any hearings on them since about May, Sutton said.
He said Coughlin promised them he’d look into why the bills have stalled.
One such bill, A3883, would revise state law on claiming and proper disposal of cremated remains of veterans and eligible spouses or dependents. It passed the Senate in May as S2601 and has remained in the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee since then. Among other things, it allows cremated remains to be interred at local veterans’ memorial cemeteries. Currently they can only be interred at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Cemetery in Wrightstown, Burlington County.
But Sutton was right in line with the legislators about the need to get Public Question No. 1 passed.
“Down here in Atlantic, Cape May and possibly part of Cumberland it could affect 300-350 veterans,” Sutton said. “Particularly here in Cape May County, a lot of veterans have for one reason or another had to give up homes — often they are so old they can’t take care of them. They move into assisted living places and, under current law, lose the right to deduct $250 a year from their taxes.”
Some are living on small pensions $250 means a lot to them, he said.
Milam said he’s proud to serve with Andrzejczak and Land, both veterans of different conflicts. Land served in Vietnam and Andrzejczak lost a leg in Iraq.
Coughlin said the 12-bill package includes a resolution urging Congress and President Trump to enact a law prohibiting the Internal Revenue Service from collecting taxes on student loans that are forgiven for deceased veterans. Under current law, the amount is counted as taxable gross income for the co-signer of the loan, putting a financial burden on the family or friends of deceased veterans during an already difficult time, according to the legislators.
The package of bills runs the gamut from smaller bills to establish new veterans’ license plates to more substantial bills to establish grants to buy and rehabilitate abandoned houses for homeless veterans. It also includes a joint resolution continuing the support for the U.S. to base the Air Force F-35 fighter jets at the 177th Fighter Wing at Atlantic City International Airport.