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AK seniors look to revive sales tax issue

JUNEAU (AP) — A group of Juneau seniors has registered as a special interest group with the Alaska Public Offices Commission in an effort to make a difference in the Oct. 3 election.

The aim of Juneau Seniors Supporting Seniors is to get the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly to restore full senior sales tax exemptions, as restrictions have been in effect for two years, group treasurer Ron Somerville said.

The group’s stated purpose is “to influence the 2017 Juneau Municipal Election concerning Assembly seats and ballot initiatives,” the Juneau Empire reported (http://bit.ly/2wQBxWz ).

As a result of a 2015 ordinance, the only items that are tax exempt for seniors are “essential items,” such as food, electricity and heating fuel.

One of the two ballot initiatives in this fall’s election is the extension of a 1 percent sales tax increase. The money from this increase would go mainly toward maintenance projects of City and Borough of Juneau buildings around town. Somerville said in past elections, seniors have stayed away from getting too heavily involved in ballot initiatives.

“In the past, since seniors didn’t have to pay a sales tax, they weren’t politically as active in sales tax issues like the 1 percent,” Somerville said. “Now, of course, they have to pay that 1 percent on non-essential items, they’ve become more interested.”

The group has been reaching out to candidates, and Somerville has even landed a position on a candidate’s campaign.

Chuck Collins, who is running for the District 1 Assembly seat currently occupied by Jesse Kiehl, sat down with representatives from the group recently. He said the meeting changed his opinion on the issue. He wasn’t sure about where he stood on it, but after talking with Somerville and others, his view changed. And on Friday, he added Somerville to his campaign as a deputy treasurer.

“I want them to support me and I’m looking for more people to be on my committee and Ron volunteered,” Collins said Friday. “There’s no doubt about it, I think we have a lot of the same viewpoints on issues in town having to do with everything from budgetary issues, including sales tax, to a number of other things that we’re doing in Juneau that we’re not as happy about how things are going.”

Somerville said he expects Juneau’s seniors to make a difference in this election, citing the fact that there are more than 4,000 in town with sales tax exemption cards who have a reason to come out and vote in this election. In last year’s municipal election, 8,408 people voted.