Lawmakers push to extend vet tax break to surviving spouses

By David Levinsky/Burlington County Times

Original Article​

TRENTON — Veterans in New Jersey are eligible for a new $3,000 state income tax deduction that was part of the 2016 gas tax deal.

But should a veteran die, his surviving spouse is eligible to receive the tax benefit only for the same year of his death. Unless the spouse is a veteran, he or she becomes ineligible for the tax exemption in subsequent years.

That doesn’t sit well with three Burlington County legislators, who have written legislation to make the surviving spouses of veterans eligible for the veterans tax exemption beyond the year of their death.

State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, and the district’s two assemblymen, Joe Howarth, R-8th of Evesham, and Ryan Peters, R-8th of Hainesport, introduced the legislation last week in their chambers, saying the change is needed to recognize the contributions of military spouses.

“Military spouses support our troops in immeasurable ways. They are part of the U.S. armed forces family, and if their spouse dies, they’re being kicked out of the family,” Howarth said in a statement. “We need to show the widowed men and women of our veterans that they will continue to be supported.”

Peters, a former Navy SEAL who served multiple combat duties overseas, said the spouses of service members often face challenges and are forced to sacrifice so their loved ones can fulfill their duty in defense of the country.

“The commitment they made throughout the years does not disappear when their spouse dies, and neither should the protections we put in place to make the life of a military family a little less challenging,” Peters said.

The bill has not yet been assigned to a legislative committee in either the Senate or Assembly. But the Assembly bill penned by Howarth and Peters already garnered bipartisan support with over 50 of the chamber’s 80 members signed on as co-sponsors.

The tax break for veterans was created in 2016 as part of the deal between Gov. Chris Christie and leaders of the Democratic-controlled Legislature to raise the gas tax 28 cents to provide needed revenues for transportation projects.

Addiego pushed for the veterans exemption to be added to the other tax breaks included in the legislation. It’s available to any veteran who was honorably discharged and is intended to assist New Jersey’s approximately 400,000 veterans.

This year marks the first year that veterans are able to claim the deduction on their tax returns, and the three 8th District lawmakers have actively tried to raise awareness about the benefit and circulate information about the steps veterans must take to apply for it. The lawmakers have said their campaign has reached tens of thousands of veterans in the state through email, letters and social media.

Among the steps veterans need to take is to fill out and return a veterans tax exemption submission form to the Division of Taxation, along with documentation from the military, such as a Certificate of Release or Discharge From Active Duty or DD-214.

The submission form can be found on the department’s website. It and the certifying documents can be sent to the division by mail, fax or by a secure online upload feature on the website.