Some old people probably didn’t hear the news that the City of St. John’s will consider giving them a tax break next year. No worries, though — when the oldsters get back from Florida, they can catch up on all the home news. With any luck, their tax exemption will be enough to enable them to spend an extra week in the sun next year.
For any vacationing members of the grey gang who have just returned to the condo from a game of golf or lawn bowling and are reading this on The Telegram’s website, here’s a recap: Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary wants city council to consider giving property tax breaks to low-income residents and seniors; Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, in his typically condescending fashion, said council will look at tax breaks for “low-income individuals” and seniors next year, as it’s too late to implement this year because the budget is already set.
Notice the reference to “seniors.” This has become part of politicians’ jargon, along with “going forward” and “on the ground.” Hardly anyone refers to “senior citizens” anymore, because it implies advanced age and creeping decrepitude. “Old people,” as per Paragraph 1 above, was last used in the public prints in 1967.
There is great concern these days for seniors — health care for seniors, pensions for seniors, tax breaks for seniors, this for seniors, that for seniors.
Sometimes it seems as if reverse ageism is going on. You seldom hear, for instance, such worried concern about the comfort and living standards of young people burdened by two tonnes of student debt.
But back to the greys. There is no reason to ponder for even one second giving a tax break, or any other extra financial benefit, to someone merely because he or she is a senior.
“Low-income residents” and “seniors” are not necessarily the same. Let’s give O’Leary and O’Keefe the benefit of the doubt, and presume they actually meant “low-income residents and low-income seniors,” but failed to specifically say so because of the modern political penchant that favours inexactitude.
O’Leary suggested that the city’s finance committee look at what the City of Mount Pearl does regarding seniors’ property taxes.
According to the City of Mount Pearl website, seniors in that fine municipality can receive a 20 per cent property tax discount if they receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement from Service Canada.
It sounds fair, at first glance. But according to Service Canada’s website, retired seniors can receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement as long as their pension does not exceed $39,695.
Boom town or not, there are still a lot of people in St. John’s — and possibly in Mount Pearl — who are working for less than $39,695 per year.
Anyone working full-time for minimum wage is taking in only $20,800. According to the City of St. John’s “State of the Economy” report, the average salary in St. John’s in 2012 was $47,476.
As always, statistics give bare facts and lie at the same time. For example, for every doctor earning $260,000, there are two dozen people making $10,000 less than the average salary.
O’Leary and O’Keefe are half right. The city should give tax breaks to low-income residents, especially since property taxes — like sales taxes — are an extremely unjust system of taxation.
But age should not be part of the equation. Being a senior does not automatically imply need, even if said senior is living on the dreaded “fixed income.” Here’s another Services Canada fact worth pondering: Old Age Security payments are not “clawed back” until a retiree’s annual pension exceeds $70,954.
In many instances, tax breaks for the young would be more appropriate.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com.