Fee issue should not be buried in legalese

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Prior to the head tax being approved by Juneau voters, several members of the Juneau business community warned us that such a tax would be unconstitutional. Now that the majority of Juneau has spoken in favor of the tourist industry paying more for the significant impact felt by this community, we continue to hear from certain members of the assembly and pro-tourism spokespersons that we should be extremely cautious in how we spend the passenger fee revenue.

Unlike other tourism issues where our assembly has aggressively pushed for more business development in the Juneau area and possessed a ``can do'' attitude, we suddenly find several members displaying a careful disposition when discussing how the passenger fee revenue should be spent, seemingly illustrating a ``can't do'' attitude.

In developing our downtown area, for example, in order to maximize t-shirt sales space, offsite parking has been granted to certain businesses. While this creative maneuver accomplished the desired results, it can only lead to further parking problems and eventually a request from our assembly seeking local resident financing of another downtown parking garage. But, nonetheless, a ``can do'' attitude existed.

Now we find our city attorney writing a 10-page memo explaining why we should be deliberate in how we spend the money derived from the fee initiative. He apparently has advised the Assembly that passenger fee revenue should be spent only on ``nautical things.'' Meanwhile the Empire recently published another experienced tax attorney's opposite view. That author says the U.S. Supreme Court has granted taxing jurisdictions leeway in how they apportion tax revenues to related impacted activities.

Since we have recently elected a more balanced assembly when it comes to tourism development, recent action should give everyone encouragement that finally Juneau is headed in the right direction. The membership rearrangement of the proposed board that will oversee related spending activity and the cancellation of a ``direct impact study'' are two good signs that maybe our assembly is finally getting the message.

Juneau residents sacrifice some degree of quality of life every summer. We should not be afraid to stand up to a cruise ship industry that enjoys many benefits, including not being properly regulated or taxed, in this country. Rather than cry ``wolf'' it is time for those assembly members that have worked feverishly to develop tourism in Juneau to follow the will of the community by keeping their creative juices flowing but in the direction the electorate has pointed.

Merle Jenson

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