- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The D.C. government giveth, the D.C. government taketh away.

This being Memorial Day weekend and all, now is the time to put the D.C. government on notice: Raising taxes is not the way to honor our veterans and military retirees, and our school teachers and police deserve better.

Funny, isn’t it, that Democrats make a big splash about funding entitlements for the poor, full funding for various feeding programs for the hungry and requests to publicly fund abortions?

Well, it’s no laughing matter that D.C. officials raised taxes on local and federal retirees, civil servants who were caught off guard this year when they filed taxes this year.

For shame, for certain.


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Nationwide, 36 states grant retirees income exclusions or tax credits targeted toward seniors, explained Sylvester Bush, a member of the Penn-Branch Citizens/Civic Association who recently testified to the D.C. Council to urge restoration of the credit.

“Maryland increased its pension exclusion from $27,000 to $29,000 for tax year 2015. Virginia allows a per-capita income exclusion of $12,000 beginning at age 65 for single taxpayers making less than $50,000 and married couples making less than $75,000,” he said.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened: In 2014, D.C. officials repealed a pension-related tax credit for police, firefighters, teachers, military, government and postal retirees. The repeal took effect in 2015, but many retirees didn’t learn of the tax increase until they began filing their taxes this year. (Interestingly, the unions aren’t kicking and screaming, too.)

The D.C. tax credit had been on the books since 1957, long before home rule.

The D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue explains what happened this way under its website heading, “What’s New This Filing Season”: “Pension Exclusion Repealed: The up to $3,000 exclusion from federal adjusted gross income of military, DC, or federal retirement payments of retirees 62 years or older, has been repealed.”

Why was this tax credit even on the minds of the D.C. Council and the mayor in 2014? Three simple words: mayoral election year. The liberals wanted to take credit for the tax breaks, while ordinary citizens (and the media) neglected to read the fine print. Indeed, most of the hip-hips were led by progressives’ and Democrats’ push for lower tax liability for lower income residents — and they got what they wanted.

Now, advocates for our senior citizens, residents on fixed incomes and civic activists who support our civil servants are demanding the tax credit be retroactively restored.

“The pension exclusion was repealed to help fund other parts of the Tax Act, including the increased standard deduction (to be phased in, reaching the federal level by 2017) and the personal exemption (to be phased in over several years, contingent upon increased revenue,” said a May 11 letter addressed to D.C. Council members and signed by Mr. Bush, a longtime D.C. resident and a military veteran.

Council member Jack Evans, who chairs the finance panel and the Metro Board, acknowledged “the repeal of the pension benefit exclusion came as a surprise to many residents,” but said that “the repeal must stay in effect,” according to a press release by the Coalition to Restore D.C. Pension Benefit Exclusion.

“It’s remarkable that the council would even consider repealing the exclusion when today the city is prospering, the population expanding, and the real estate market exploding. The repeal takes away a modest benefit and is an affront to seniors. The council’s action feeds the narrative that as the character of Washington changes, the seniors who stuck with the city in hard times are now completely disregarded,” said Jimmie Williams, president of Penn-Branch Citizens/Civic Association.

Mr. Bush, a Christian soldier who wears several hats, flagged me about the undue tax burden on our fine, retired civil servants now face, including the women and men living and receiving services at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Northwest, where the average age is of residents is 82.

In addition to the Penn-Branch organization, the coalition urging restoration of the ensign benefit includes the D.C. Federation of Citizens Associations, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) D.C. Chapter, Baptist Ministers Conference of D.C. and Vicinity, National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) D.C. Chapter, Mary Collins, Washington Teachers Union Retiree Chapter, and Margaret Hicks, a certified public accountant.

Now, I know many of you have heard of the VFW, which dates to the Spanish-American War and has a membership of nearly 1.7 million. Its vision is uncomplicated: “Ensure that veterans are respected for their service, always receive their earned entitlements, and are recognized for the sacrifices they and their loved ones have made on behalf of this great country.”

That’s as simple as saying “thank you,” the core value of Memorial Day.

Shame on D.C. for giving and then taking away.

Restore the pension-related tax credit to our local and federal retirees. They earned it.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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