My Turn: Do not take yet another benefit from older Alaskans

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2005

It has recently been reported that there are local officials with influence that would like to see the senior citizen sales tax exemption eliminated. The two reasons being promoted for this purpose are abuses of the system and a predicted shift in population balance to an older status placing an unfair burden on the taxpayers under 65.

As far as the question of abuse is concerned, it is probably impossible to create any program that people of little or no integrity cannot abuse. This includes our Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and other programs that help citizens in need. Isn't it shortsighted to eliminate these programs because there is or may be abuse when you consider how many people you hurt versus the undetermined amount of possible abuses? It has been stated that merchants have witnessed abuses. I can see why they would be a likely source and more motivated to complain because of the extra effort they must put forth in accounting and record keeping when making tax-exempt sales. However, there appears to be no hard core documented facts or in-depth study of the subject, but it is still being promoted as one reason to do away with the exemption. Has there ever been one or any number of individuals fined or punished for tax exemption abuse?

The concern about overall population balance shifting to older Alaskans may have less validity than abuses when carefully examined. I draw this into question when I think of the number of my old friends that have left Alaska to retire elsewhere. This seems to be a common factor with older Alaskans that should have a large effect on any age balance. Here again, like abuse, to take any action without examination of the facts is irresponsible.

I can't help but comment on the older Alaskans loss of benefits that has been put into effect, such as the Longevity Bonus, and now the eroding away of the Juneau property tax exemption because of the increase of assessment values. Any older citizen who has a home assessed at more than $150,000, which is probably most, is now paying property taxes in an escalating sum linked directly to the real estate inflation. All this comes when the cost of living, especially with heating oil for homes, is on the increase. The concept of paying taxes on absolute necessities of life like the roof over a man's head and the food that goes into his mouth is not a very humanitarian practice. It is related in nature to taxing the air one breathes.

In the last 40 years Juneau tourism has increased from two small ships (the Prince George and Princess Pat) a week to more than that in one day. The rapid increase in tourism with more being expected is placing, and will continue to place, a large amount of sales tax revenue in the hands of the city. Please, factor this into the exemption equation before taking benefits from the old. There should be some direct benefit derived from the additional airborne noise and impact caused by tourism on the local citizenry while others concurrently profit monetarily from increasing tourism. Some of those profiting don't even call Alaska their home.

Those that want to extract increase income from others can always find ways to justify their actions whether valid or not. After the income is received will they promote spending it on causes that justify from where and how it was taken? If it is decided to take it from the old and they have to pay, it would be more forgiving to return it directly to the taxpayer and not do what is common for most governments - spend it.

• Juneau resident Ammon Hill works as a construction inspector.

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