The senior citizen sales tax exemption will now apply to same-sex domestic partners, allowing the city code to comply with the Alaska Constitution.
The city code previously allowed those 65 and older an exemption on city sales tax. Their spouse, regardless of age, could also receive the exemption. The wording in this code excluded same-sex domestic partners, which is unconstitutional. While same-sex marriage isn't legal in Alaska, a 2005 state Supreme Court ruling stated Alaska's Constitution prohibits excluding a specific group of people from benefits like this.
So the city had two options - include same-sex domestic partners or cancel the sales tax exemption for all seniors.
Juneau Resident Willie Anderson was the only person to comment Monday night.
"I urge you to support this with your leadership in fully implementing the Supreme Court's decision," he said. "I'm very honored to be a part of this community with the leadership you have chosen in this matter.
Anderson said he is a member of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.
The Assembly unanimously approved the ordinance to include same-sex domestic couples.
In other business, the Assembly approved in a 6-2 vote to refer a potential single-item sales tax ordinance change back to the finance committee, with Assemblymen Jonathan Anderson and Johan Dybdahl dissenting.
Currently, sales tax is exempt on the portion of a single-item purchase that exceeds $7,500. The Assembly sought to remove that cap on jewelry purchases, but failed. Mayor Bruce Botelho gave a notice of reconsideration.
Anderson said he objected because he felt the debate had already taken place and he knew of no new information that would change the outcome.
Assemblyman Merrill Sanford said bringing it back to finance committee would allow for more open discussion on who the change will affect. He said he wanted to make sure local jewelers weren't negatively impacted.
Anderson questioned the legality of instilling residency requirements for people who own jewelry businesses.
"We talked about this at the public hearing," he said. "I noted that this was focusing on one particular industry and that while I don't have any great enthusiasm for the jewelry stores, I am very uncomfortable singling out one of anything for differential treatment."
He noted that Ketchikan and Sitka have $1,000 single-item tax caps. Anderson said if Juneau wants to price itself out of the jewelry industry the removal of the tax cap is the way to go.
Dybdahl objected because of information he received from local jewelers following the initial defeat of the ordinance amendment.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@ juneauempire.com.
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