I am 61 years old and have resided in Juneau for more than 50 of those years. I am retired from the Juneau Police Department after 20 years of service, and retired from the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve after nearly eights years of active duty and 26 years of reserve duty.
Almost three years of my active duty Coast Guard time came as a result of being recalled to active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. I am proud to have served my country and community, and I asked nothing in return. Yet, on the precipice of turning 65, at the rate time passes just another few days, I find that I will not have the opportunity to take part in a senior citizen sales tax exemption.
And would you like to know what I think about that? It’s about darn time!
I suppose I look at paying taxes not as a requirement or obligation. No, paying my taxes is a privilege. It comes with living in the greatest city, in the greatest state, in the greatest country.
To me, paying taxes means that I have the best fire and police departments that can be found in this state. It means that our children receive a good education by teachers that are dedicated to that end. It means that my streets are maintained and plowed so I can get from here to there without problem. I could go on and on about why I find it a privilege to pay taxes, but you probably get the point.
At the same time, I would hope that those taxes would be fair and equitable, but unfortunately they usually are not. I can’t tell you exactly how many sales tax exemptions exist just in our city’s system, or how much lost tax revenue the rest of us have to make up as a result of those exemptions, but when last I saw the figures I was extremely dismayed. These tax exemptions only tend to make the system less fair and less equitable.
I don’t know how many times I have head, as I’m sure you have heard also, “Well, it’s just government money.” No it isn’t. It’s the people’s money!
Remember one of the golden rules — there is no free lunch. If you don’t pay for your lunch, someone else will have to. A senior sales tax exemption only means that my friends and neighbors would have to pick up the extra burden. How fair and equitable is that, particularly when many of them are in less of a position to pay taxes than I am? Additionally, the senior sales tax exemption was more than a little ripe with abuse.
I don’t know how many times I have heard about a senior shopping for family members so that their family could avoid paying sales tax. My wife was in a store just days before the senior tax exemption changed and watched a senior stock up on cigarettes before they would have to start paying tax on them.
While I in no way object to the discussion of affordable housing, I would much prefer we concentrate on affordable living, and to that end I hope that the senior sales tax exemption was just the beginning, and that many more of our local tax exemptions will follow suit. Having said that, a tax exemption still exists for those who can demonstrate a need, and for those people it is again my privilege to help them with their burden.
While Karen Crane and I far from agree on many subjects, I have a great deal of respect for her and I admire her willingness to stand up and fight against the injustice that the senior sales tax exemption was. In fact, since Mrs. Crane and her husband are both seniors and could be enjoying those benefits it would seem she looked the gift horse in the mouth and stared it down. And for this, on March 15, 2016, both my wife and I will be proud to vote for Karen Crane for mayor of Juneau.
• Robert Fletcher lives in Juneau.