Mark Kennedy: Why older people don't like property taxes

Mark Kennedy, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·4 min read

Mar. 27—An actual father-son conversation:

My 14-year-old son: "Dad, there are three things in life I don't understand."

Me: "Just three?"

Son: "Well, at least three."

Me: "OK, what are they?"

Son: "Well, No. 1, Bluetooth.

"No. 2, where the wind comes from.

"No. 3, which came first, the color orange or the fruit orange?"

Me: "Hmm. Sounds like you've thought about these some. Do they really bother you?"

Son: "Yep.

"Actually. I just thought of something else. How do bath towels get dirty, since you are clean when you dry off?"

All of us have things we don't understand. Me included.

One day last week on a trip to the Hamilton County Courthouse, I got the answer to two longstanding mysteries, and I feel compelled to pass along the answers.

Here are the questions:

No 1: Why is it so hard to pass a modest property tax increase in Hamilton County?

No. 2: What ever happened to that law that says you'll need a special driver's licence to fly on a domestic flight? Did that go away with COVID?

Random, I know. But let me take them in order.

So it came to pass that I recently got my tax bill from Hamilton County. My mortgage is paid off, and my installment plan for paying my county taxes monthly had lapsed.

Most renters and mortgage payers, who remit taxes through their loan payments, are perhaps only vaguely aware of paying county property taxes. The people with active mortgages often pay taxes through an escrow account where the money sits until the lender pays the yearly tax bill as it comes due.

Older residents, like me, who may have paid off their mortgages, are different. We write a check once a year for hundreds, or thousands, of dollars to pay our taxes. Even though we love county employees and need services, it's still hard to write that big check.

This brings us back to the tax issue. A Venn diagram of the older property owners who pay their property taxes in a lump sum and the people who vote in county elections has a big overlap. That's why raising the tax rate, even a little, is a big lift politically for county officials.

Now, on to mystery No. 2., those Real ID driver's licenses we've been hearing about. Yes, it is time to worry about them again.

Unless there's another delay — always a possibility — Americans without a Real ID driver's licence (or a valid U.S. passport) will not be able to board a domestic flight after Oct. 1, 2021.

This was supposed to happen last fall, but the deadline was extended due to the pandemic.

If you don't take care of this in the next six months, that flight to Colorado to see the grandkids for Thanksgiving might be in peril.

To get a Real ID, you have to appear in person, pay $12 and bring at least four identification papers. A state website (www.tn.gov/tnrealid.html) will tell you what to bring. You have a choice.

I took my passport, my laminated 48-year-old Social Security card, my Hamilton County property tax payment receipt and my current Tennessee driver's licence. Turns out, I needed all four of these documents — although there are substitutes you can use (for example, a birth certificate instead of a passport).

Then, you just sit back and wait a few weeks for your Real ID license to arrive in the mail from state government. You can even show it off to your friends because it will have a special gold star in the upper, left-hand corner.

The origin of this goes back to the federal Real ID Act of 2005, which was put in place after the 9/11 Commission said we needed more-secure documents to fly in the United States.

And yes, your math is right; it has taken 16 years to get to the deadline. Assuming it won't be changed again.

Now, my brain is searching for a new worry.

Don't worry. I'll find one.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.