My turn: Cutting the cruise ship head tax makes no sense

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2010

Why does a campaign of fear and misrepresentation have to govern political policies and actions?

As with the national health care debate, an uninformed public can be influenced by the tactics of fear and distortion of facts. In Alaska, spokespersons for commercial interests, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Cruise Association and some state legislators, are arguing that tourism is being destroyed by the 2006 citizen-approved Passenger Head Tax.

Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed reduction by $11.50 per passenger as a way to reinstate cruise ship visits to Alaska seems ridiculous. There has been no commitment by the industry to increase visits to the state. Some state legislators say a pending federal lawsuit by the Alaska Cruise Association could be averted by accommodating that industry. These reactions to threats are examples of a political strategy of self-interest. Not the public interest. Or reality.

Until the statewide Passenger Head Tax was imposed, the cruise ship industry pitted one community against another, eliminating or threatening to eliminate cruise ship visits to ports that individually established a head tax.

The impact of cruise ships and their hundreds of thousands of passengers on the services, resources, destinations and infrastructure of a port city are tremendous. The head tax serves to mitigate this. A $46 or $50 addition to a passenger ticket has never been demonstrated to influence a person's decision about travel. They are not even aware of such a tax. Since that tax, in any event, is negligible, the loss of scheduled cruise ship visits last year and this surely have much more to do with the national and international economic recession. And, luckily, Alaska has not been hit with loss of revenue or jobs nearly at the level of every other state in the nation. So much for fear and facts.

Tourism in unquestionably valuable to Alaska, both by groups and by independent travelers. But we should not have to pander to profit-making enterprises to the detriment of the public. Fairness and ethics are other issues that should be addressed by our local and state governments.

The minimum wage in Alaska should be increased to $12 per hour. California has this rate, and living expenses there are not nearly as high as in Alaska. Our economy would benefit from such an increase in buying and staying power.

A second issue is the failure of Juneau tourism businesses to pay required sales taxes. They collect it from their customers but do not pay the city. The city lists pages of delinquencies in the Juneau Empire with minimal results. No legal action is taken to collect, though litigation against one or two of the most egregious businesses might motivate others to pay up. The public would certainly be served by an increase in financial resources with which to conduct city business.

• Dixie Hood is a 35-year Juneau resident. She serves on the Juneau Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, and as a liaison between that committee and the city's Docks and Harbors board.

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