Just days after New Jerseyans voted to expand the veterans’ property tax deduction, lawmakers are moving to ask them to take it another step further.

In last week’s election, 76% of voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing wartime veterans who live in continuing care retirement communities to get the $250 deduction, even though they don’t directly own their homes.

In the first legislative after the election, an Assembly committee unanimously advanced another constitutional amendment that could make the 2020 ballot that would further expand the deduction by making veterans eligible even if they didn’t serve in a time of war or emergency.

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex, said she was surprised to learn 11 years ago that some veterans aren’t recognized as such by the state, at least for the purposes of the property tax deduction.

“I was just truly upset, so I made it my goal and my mission to try to make sure that a vet is a vet and to make sure that we had the same definitions as the federal government,” said Tucker, the chairwoman of the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, said people who sign up for the military don’t control when and where they’re assigned.

“But the contract that they sign still said the same thing: We will do everything our country asked for, including dying for our country. So that signature alone should have been eligible for these benefits,” Armato said.

Among those apparently locked out is Tuckerton resident Ken Hagemann, who served as a Marine Corps sniper in combat operations in the Middle East in the 1980s.

“I was awarded a combat action ribbon along with other awards,” said Hagemann, the New Jersey state adjutant for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “When I came home, I was shocked to find out that my home state didn’t consider me a veteran.”

Worse, he said, the 39 people killed and 37 wounded that he served alongside also wouldn’t be considered veterans for property tax purposes if they were from New Jersey, potentially costing them or their spouses the benefit.

“It’s as if their sacrifice didn’t even count to the citizens of New Jersey,” Hagemann said. “And it’s unfair that some bureaucrat or legislator who’s long gone decided this.”

New Jersey has different eligibility thresholds for its various veterans’ benefits. The state exempts $6,000 of a veteran’s income from state income taxes, doubled under a law enacted this year, and that program is available to a wider group of around 400,000 eligible veterans.

Last year, nearly 170,000 veterans and veterans’ widows received the $250 property tax deduction. Voters last week agreed to expand eligibility to include those who live in continuing care retirement communities and aren’t now included in the program because they don’t own their homes.

The property tax deduction is written into the 1947 state constitution, which is why any changes to it require a public vote.

It isn’t clear how many veterans would become newly eligible under the latest proposal and, by extension, what such a change would cost the state. Nearly three-fourths of the last 80 years have been periods of active wartime, as defined by the state.

The longest inactive period was the seven-plus years between the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the start of the Lebanon peacekeeping mission of 1982. There has been a conflict continuously – either in Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq or Afghanistan – since August 1992.

The state also recognizes work by military members in the World Trade Center recovery and cleanup between September 2001 and May 2002 as active wartime service.

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