On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Alaskan voters will decide whether or not to pass Ballot Measure 4, a statewide 10 mill property tax cap. Many people in our state believe that this issue, more than any other on the ballot, will affect senior citizens' lives.
In fact, the Alaska Commission on Aging, has adopted a resolution opposing the tax cap initiative. The Alaska Commission on Aging (ACOA) is the state's advocacy, planning and grant-making agency to address the needs of Alaskans age 60 and older. In their resolution, the ACOA "warns that passage of the tax cap initiative could seriously jeopardize the continuation of local benefits and services that allow older Alaskans to remain in their communities."
What are some of these senior benefits and services which are threatened by Ballot Measure 4? The City and Borough of Juneau currently assists its senior citizens through the property tax exemption, the sales tax exemption and grants for hospice care, counseling, care coordination, legal services and an adult day program. In addition, the Borough funds a variety of services which many of us take for granted, including police, fire, libraries, parks, road maintenance and transportation.
The Alaska Commission on Aging objects that local property taxes have historically been decided by local citizens rather than through a statewide election. In fact, Juneau citizens have already approved their own 12 mill property tax cap which allows voters to approve bond issues for public improvements in addition to the 12 mill cap. However, the statewide initiative's cap would forbid Juneau voters from approving bond issues unless other cuts are made to stay within the 10 mill restriction. This means we and our assembly members would have to choose between local services, and the repair and construction of schools, roads and other public improvements.
"The Anchorage area initiative must be soundly defeated to keep Juneau's future in the hands of Juneau voters," write community leaders Dennis Egan and Bill Corbus in a recent letter to Juneau service agencies. Juneau citizens from all political parties and income levels are concerned about the negative impacts of the "Anchorage initiative."
Statewide, the initiative would eliminate nearly one-third of all property tax revenues. Since schools are the main service funded by property taxes, some fear that the new tax cap would eliminate all other services funded by property taxes. Opponents of the initiatives believe that senior citizen services and exemptions would be significantly reduced or totally eliminated. The Anchorage Daily News quotes the sponsor of the tax cap initiative as saying, "Only a handful of services are totally essential -- water and sewer and the roads. All the rest, if you look at it, are special interest groups."
In Juneau, if the initiative is adopted, the Borough will need to cut its operating budget by 1.5 million dollars. Services for seniors and families will have to compete for funding against education, police, fire, water, sewer, and maintenance for buildings and roads.
The Alaska AARP and the newly formed (Alaskan) Senior Advocacy Coalition join the Alaska Commission on Aging in publicly announcing their opposition to the tax cap. They encourage all Alaskans statewide to vote "NO" on Ballot Measure 4.
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs in Southeast Alaska as a member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Services. CCS assists all persons regardless of faith.
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