Candidates address senior issues

Free bus rides and sales tax exemption top the discussions

Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2005

At an AARP forum Wednesday, all of the Juneau Assembly candidates told seniors that they would never change the city's current policy of letting them ride city buses for free.

"I support the seniors riding the bus for free," said District 2 candidate Jonathan Anderson, director of the University of Alaska Southeast's public administration master's program. "Many of our senior neighbors cannot drive. They don't have an option."

But not all candidates took a stand on whether to terminate the city's current sales tax exemption for seniors.

An Assembly tax subcommittee proposes modifying the current exemption. People who are not 65 on or before Jan. 1, 2006, would not be eligible for the exemption. The city would eliminate the program entirely in 2016.

Anderson said he needs to examine the city's whole tax structure.

District 2 candidate Andrew Green said if elected, he would make sure the government runs more efficiently and effectively so seniors could be exempt from sales taxes.

At-large candidate Bob Doll and both District 1 candidates, incumbent Merrill Sanford and Joan Cahill, said they would oppose eliminating the exemption.

"Without the sales tax exemption, either seniors can barely live here and have to live with their children or they are going to suffer a great deal," said Doll, former ferry system director and member of Juneau Social Services Advisory Board.

Sanford, a career and volunteer firefighter for 30 years, said he would not do anything that drives seniors out of the community.

"I won't support overtaxing you," Sanford said.

Cahill, communications specialist for Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., said she would support continuing the exemption because most seniors live on a fixed income.

At-large candidate David Summers said as president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, he has worked with the tax subcommittee on several issues.

"I know them and I know how to work with them," Summers said. "I would receive recommendations from the seniors and balance that out from the subcommittee's recommendations."

Early, who is pursuing a master's degree in public administration at the University of Alaska Southeast, said she needs to hear how the public feels about it but she supports providing general services for seniors.

Eighty-one-year-old Merle Ritter, who wore a shirt saying "Ears work! Eyes don't!" said she was impressed by Anderson's intelligence and Doll's experience. She said she would vote for Cahill because she is a woman.

"When you have two people running and they are both good, I vote for the woman," Ritter said. "I believe in equality."

Al Judson said he would vote for Early, Cahill and Anderson.

"We need some new blood," Judson said. "Mara is quick. Joan studies hard. Anderson has management experience."

One senior who didn't want to reveal her name said she would vote for Summers and Sanford because Summers doesn't care whether people like him and Cahill is indecisive. She said she hasn't decided whether to vote for Green or Anderson.

•I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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