Sometimes, there’s more than one good answer to a question. On Tuesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly spent some time trying to figure out the best answer for what to do with proposed changes to the borough’s seasonal sales tax exemption on non-prepared food.
The ordinance being reconsidered would have asked borough voters to shorten the seasonal exemptions from nine months of the year to six months. That measure was a substitute for another that would have repealed the exemption altogether.
As several assembly members pointed out in their comments at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, those on all sides of the debate made valid points. After a close vote at its previous meeting to put the measure on the ballot, on reconsideration the assembly decided against the measure, keeping the current 9-month exemption in place.
Either decision — keeping the voter-approved 9-month exemption, or asking voters to approve a change — would have been an appropriate action by the assembly.
That’s not the end of the grocery tax debate. This fall, voters will be deciding on a ballot question to repeal a borough ordinance that allows general law cities, including Soldotna, to continue to collect a 3 percent sales tax on groceries in months when the borough’s exemption is in effect.
A tax exemption is an easy sell to voters — who doesn’t want to save money? On the other hand, eliminating or reducing an exemption is a much tougher decision. Even in the state’s current fiscal situation, there is little sentiment for increasing government revenue, no matter the level of public support for whatever it program it might fund.
There are a number of sales and property tax exemptions currently in borough code. If there is an essential need to increase revenue to cover government expenses, rather than looking at exemptions individually — and, fairly or unfairly, singling out a particular group of taxpayers — the borough assembly and administration would do better to consider all tax exemptions as a whole, and put together a package of changes, so that the burden is more evenly spread among taxpayers.