My turn: Seniors get a break on the backs of youth

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Juneau needs to address the "temporary" sales tax issue from a different prospective. One reason Juneau is aging is due to taxation policies that funds nonessential projects on the backs of youth. Over 50 percent of the sales in Juneau are not taxable. If all sales were taxable, we could raise the same revenue with a 2.5 sales tax, easing the burden for everyone. Of course some of this lost revenue is due to government purchases but much is from senior exemptions. They get many reduced or free services and a 5 percent reduction an all sales in the city. Yet it is estimated that those older than 60 have 60 percent of the wealth in the nation. On top of this, they get a $150,000 property tax exemption. Who pays for this? The youth, those raising a family and making house payments, pay through increased property taxes and an additional 5 percent on anything they buy.

The arguments always used are old people have a fixed income and increased medical bills, or old people have it owed to them. I am within a few years of qualifying for senior discounts and being "old." I look at a "fixed income" as being a guaranteed income, something youth do not have. For every senior with medical needs, I can think of a young couple with two children who have medical needs. What is the difference between the needs of a senior with $12,000 of yearly income and a family of four with $48,000 of income? It still comes out to $12,000 per person. Many young people don't have Medicare or insurance to help them. We owe the youth the same opportunity we had without making them pay our taxes for us.

Every day I see seniors, who have great retirement packages and own their home, sign for a sales-tax exemption on coffee, lunch, groceries and sporting goods. Behind them is a couple who may only have one job between them and no hope of buying a home. They pay the tax. This is wrong. The break should be income-based, not age-based.

Another problem with financing nonessential projects through sales tax is the elderly vote and as it is no money out of their pocket, why not say yes? Once again, it's loaded on the backs of youth. There are more elderly all the time as the youth leave and it becomes self perpetuating. I am sure if the elderly had to pay sales tax there would be much more restraint and prioritizing on local spending.

This brings me to the current issue of the water park. We have cost estimates and operating estimates from the city. When was the last time you remember a major project by the city coming in as originally estimated and operating costs being what was predicted or revenue being what was originally projected? Revised estimates don't count. When was the last time someone was held responsible for those estimates?

Taxation problems carry over into the city of Juneau buying private property for two to three times assessed value and taking it off the tax rolls. This adds additional debt to the taxpayers as well as removing revenue from property taxes, a double dip.

Juneau is losing its future to the past, its youth to the old. We need jobs, access, infrastructure and an equitable sharing of the tax burden. Then we might be able to sustain our population and keep our youth in the community.

• Juneau resident Tim Whiting has been a fisherman, a fireman, a state employee and local business owner.

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