Why should seniors get a parcel tax break?

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Palo Alto is voting today on a $493/year parcel tax (replacing the $293 parcel tax expiring in 3006) to go to Palo Alto Schools. Despite the majority requirement, it looks like it's going to pass. Reasonable people can differ, of course, on whether its a good idea to pass this kind of tax on property, but there's one pretty annoying feature:
Section 3. An optional exemption shall also be available for a person 65 years or older who owns and occupies as a principal residence a parcel (as defined above) and applies to the District for such exemption in accordance with guidelines established by the District.

This is a canny political move--conventional wisdom is that seniors disproportionately vote in this kind of special election--but it's hard to see how it embodies any sort of fairness. People's benefit from improved property values scales with the current value of their property, not their age.

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5 Comments

I believe the usual argument for this sort of thing is that senior citizens, compared to other homeowners, are (a) more likely to be on fixed incomes, making a tax increase like this unaffordable for them, and (b) more affected by the strain and disruption of moving to a cheaper house.

Of course, if that's the rationale, then the city should ask for income information before granting an exemption. Perhaps the "guidelines" mention that?

I don't see any mention of income qualification in the parcel tax writeup (50 pages!) In any case, if one is interested in some kind of income fairness, then a flat parcel tax is a pretty terrible instrument.

. Un-reasonable, but another Justification


As one who benefits from the exemption, I agree with you that it is un-reasonable and I would have voted against the exemption if it were on the ballot.


I suspect that another questionable "justification" is that we Oldsters are not going to take advantage of the schools and thus might not be taxed as much as those who might have kids.


I think the age test is a political hack designed to get the
tax passed. The idea that seniors in Palo Alto can't afford
this is pretty thin, and the lack of a means test pretty
much confirms this.


The idea of "let's you and me agree to tax that guy" is
nice, though, isn't it? Agreeing that if you take up the
exemption you cannot vote on the tax would
lower my hackles a bit, but it would still be a bit icky.


On a much broader note, I really hate how America can't
talk about class. It will proxy for it ("historically disadvantaged
groups"), but it will rarely come out and deal with things like
means testing. Of course, with the over-leveraged lifestyles
of the Palo Alto-style elites, goodness knows how you would
devise the test. Debt-to-income would allow a lot of
porsche drivers to show up as poor....

I think its refreshing to see Eric ack that seniors got a tax break specifically because of their political power.

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