My Turn: Senior exemptions forgotten

Posted: Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's discouraging when you get the feeling that you should bow your head, slink into the room, and apologize for being a senior and still alive.

I admit I've been around a rather long time, long enough anyway, to remember when there were very few older retired persons in Alaska. The reason given was that nobody could afford to remain here after they retired. It was just too expensive. Everybody went South, looking for a place that was warmer and didn't require so much money to buy food and fuel to keep warm. And that was before the fuel prices started climbing sky high.

Evidently it was decided that it would be nice to encourage at least some of the elderly seniors to remain by giving them certain small but reasonable incentives like riding the buses for free, getting hunting and fishing licenses for free, exempting seniors from paying property taxes, exempting them from paying sales taxes, inviting them to take courses at the state university tuition-free if there were openings in the courses after closing dates for paying students. There was, for a time, a longevity bonus, which really helped.

Yes, it was quite encouraging for retiring seniors. It looked like we might have earned a little assistance over the years. Lots of things were not so easy or cheap in our earlier years. Of course, not everybody remembers the days when some of us lived "out the road" without running water, sewers, telephones and electric lights. People often referred to that as pioneering. Cars were not as dependable. Services were not as available. Wages were not as suitable.

Well, more of us began to stay here after we retired. The truth is, we wanted to stay here. This had become home. We liked the place. Our friends were here. We could manage to support ourselves by careful planning.

It wasn't even too surprising when some of the privileges began to be taken away. Property tax wasn't too bad until the appraisals began to go up and the pensions did not. My house is not really very opulent, but it is comfortable. Even so, with the partial exemption we now receive, my property tax this year was well over $1,300. That's a przetty good chunk out of a pension check.

And now it looks like somebody has listed all those "incentives" and is checking off the list. I guess the idea is that we don't need any of them anymore. Somehow we need to get across that some of us are enough older than when we retired that it's hard to make new plans. Going south now is more difficult. But the pension check isn't going up and living expenses are climbing. All those "incentives" are under attack.

Yes, I know. One idea now is to put everything through the "means test." And I know that a few of us seniors get fairly good retirements - not a lot, but decent. So we can pass the means tests, one at a time, but not one after another. If we have one after another of the incentives removed by the means test, those of us who passed it soon find ourselves down to the point where we can't pass another one.

Of course, I didn't realize that the governor was having trouble finding enough money in the budget to pay his commissioners enough. If I'd known that, maybe I wouldn't have tried to get him to leave my $250 a month Longevity Bonus in there. I'm glad he finally got enough together by cutting that and other items so he could give those poor commissioners a living wage.

But it's really discouraging to be having so many budgets balanced on our backs.

• Juneau resident Bea Shepard worked 31 years for the territory and state of Alaska.

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