My Turn: Assembly should be brave and impose tax equity

Posted: Monday, November 07, 2005

I attended my first meeting on the subject of removing the senior sales tax exemption in the late '80s. Since that time there have been suggestions to cancel it, make it income-based to have seniors pay sales tax and then apply for a refund, and, of course, to phase it out so the current seniors can retain their God-given right to not pay the sales tax.

The minute someone questions the senior sales tax exemption they are accused of being against motherhood and apple pie and even told that they "hate old people." Soon after that comes the guilt-complex defense complete with apologies about living too long. From my point of view, it is about equity. It is expensive to live in Juneau no matter what your age, and I feel this burden should be equally shared. The "burden" should not be balanced on anyone's back, young or old. If you can't afford to stay here the result is the same.

The ratio of seniors to the general population in Juneau is rising rapidly. Currently seniors are 7 percent of the population and expected to double to over 14 percent by 2018. Do we just add another percent to make up the difference for those that pay sales tax? Juneau has funded many projects benefiting all segments of the population through the sales tax. Seniors with a long history in Juneau are benefiting from many of these projects and will from future projects. How can we keep financing not only improvements but maintenance of existing infrastructure without everyone sharing the load equally?

If the tables were turned and only everyone over 65 had to pay sales tax, would there be a lawsuit alleging age discrimination? Of course there would. As seniors are a protected class and youth are not, is it fair to discriminate against youth?

As a senior are you in a better position to handle taxes now as compared when you were starting out? When you were young and raising a family, there was no senior exemption. The seniors before you helped with the tax burden. Why should you be exempt from sharing the load?

Why should the richest family in Juneau be able to sign for a $10 sales tax exemption on a $200 meal in a restaurant when the couple with young children has to pay sales tax on a meal at McDonald's?

Those over 65 are covered by federal health insurance programs and now a prescription drug program paid for by all Americans. Why should a family unable to afford any insurance be required to pay a sales tax when seniors are not?

Should people who don't pay taxes be allowed to vote on items pertaining to that tax? The Revolutionary War was fought partly due to taxation without representation. Is that different from representation without taxation?

Then there are the everyday occurrences of seniors purchasing big-ticket items for family members using their exemption. For those with relatives in town it is a good deal but it is as unfair as someone who arrives tomorrow from California at age 65 and gets all the exemptions without contributing to the community.

Those that feel this program is a show of respect for their elders can show their respect by helping them out if they need it. How can you expect the single parent who may be in worse need to pay someone else's share of taxes just because of an age difference? There are seniors who need help, just as there are young single parents that need help, but there are programs based on need that will help those folks.

I believe most sales tax exemptions, not just the senior exemption, should be removed and the sales tax lowered for all. Any exemptions should be given universally to all members of the community or based on need. Those who cannot afford big-ticket items should not be required to make up the $200 lost in sales tax when a well-off senior buys a $4,000 television at Costco. I would like to see an Assembly with the courage to do what is right for the community and its members, not just those with the loudest lobbying.

• Juneau resident Tim Whiting is a dues-paying member of AARP and Pioneers of Alaska.

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