News stories in today's Empire raise important public policy questions relating to senior citizens. As a senior and a retired public employee, I have a few comments.
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Assembly member Anderson is quoted as saying that "(his) generation is paying for those who are retired." Well, sir, isn't that the way it has always been? Before we became a society of separated families, the younger members of a family took care of their own senior members. Now that the extended family has been essentially eliminated in today's American culture, society is picking up that burden. Of course, in many families, the seniors are able to help the younger generation meet their current need. For example, the high cost of housing means that seniors are opening their homes to their adult children; the high cost of medical care means that seniors who are able are helping their adult children meet medical needs. It is never as simple as the assemblyman seems to make it.
In other Empire stories, the cost of providing a decent retirement is on the table. Almost buried in those stories is the fact that two major factors in the growing unfunded liability are health care costs and the shift of new employees to a system that stops the flow of new money into the Public Employees' Retirement System. This tells me two things: It is more important than ever that health care costs be brought under control (universal health care with regulated prescription drug costs comes to mind) and the shift from the PERS system to a 401(k) system needs to be re-evaluated. As a person who saw his individual retirement account, suffer severely due to the fickleness of the stock market and poor investment advice by professionals, I know that 401(k) systems simply will not provide all participants with the income needed to supplement Social Security.
Finally, the end of the senior sales tax exemption will not cause us to leave Juneau, but it was certainly a factor when we considered the economics of returning to Juneau after several years in Oregon. What it will do is affect our ability to make charitable contributions to local organizations from our disposable income and more than likely increase our out of state purchases of big ticket items. I hope that the task force has looked at the whole economic picture and not just the direct loss to city coffers. I also trust that they look at the list of businesses that owe taxes they have collected and get tough with them before clamping down on the senior population. No business that collects or fails to collect and report taxes should be given the kind of grace that the city seems to allow. If they don't pay, file liens and hold the individual owners liable. That's what the Internal Revenue Service does with business who fail to turn over withheld taxes.