$50 head tax gains speed

Senate adds fee to bill on ship pollution

Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2000

A bill to charge cruise ship passengers a $50 head tax sped through the Senate Finance Committee late Wednesday night.

The head tax was added to Senate Bill 308, which would require cruise ships to file reports on what level of pollution is in their air emissions and water discharges.

The bill went through the Finance Committee a day after Senate President Drue Pearce lambasted cruise ship and other shipping industries for lobbying against another bill she sponsored.

That bill, Senate Bill 273, would require cruise ships and other large vessels to ensure they are prepared to respond to fuel spills. It is stalled in Rep. Ramona Barnes' House World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee.

Pearce leaned back in her chair and smiled broadly as the head tax bill moved quickly through the Senate Finance Committee with little discussion Wednesday night.

But afterward, she said the quick movement on the head tax bill was not retaliation over the lack of action on Senate Bill 273 and was not being used to try to leverage action in the House on that measure.

``This is a standalone bill,'' she said. The Finance Committee had retained Juneau attorney Joe Geldhof, a backer of Juneau's passenger fee, a number of weeks ago to work on the head tax issue, she said.

``The cruise industry pays no taxes in Alaska,'' Pearce said. Levying a statewide head tax will prevent the industry from playing one community off another when one tries to impose a head tax, she added.

Tom Dow, a spokesman for Princess Cruises, said imposing a tax on cruise ship passengers would not be equitable.

``Cruise passengers and other tourists pay the same taxes in Alaska that everyone else does right now,'' he said. ``They pay sales taxes on purchases in communities around the state. They pay bed taxes when they stay overnight before or after their cruise, as many do.''

``The businesses that provide services to the cruise companies pay property taxes and the cruise and cruise tour companies that own equipment and property in Alaska pay all the taxes on those that everyone else pays.''

The way the bill is written, the first five communities a cruise ship visits in Alaska would each get $5 of the $50 tax. The state would take the rest and could spend it on state-owned ports and harbors.

The bill was on the Senate calendar today, but no action had been taken by the Empire's midday deadline.

Meanwhile, Barnes said she's come up with a way to resolve the disagreement over Pearce's fuel spill contingency planning bill in the House. Barnes has said there's not enough information on how the bill will affect Alaska industries, and her solution is to appoint a task force to study the issue over the interim.

The task force she envisions would include representatives from the affected industries as well as the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Coast Guard and spill response cooperatives, as well as members appointed by the Senate president and the speaker of the House.

A resolution establishing that task force was expected on the House floor.

Pearce said a task force studying the issue won't satisfy her, in part because there would be no assurance its work would result in a new law.

``The Legislature might, it might not, actually do anything with the recommendations of the task force,'' she said.

The head tax provisions were added to a cruise industry pollution reporting bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican. It is a companion bill to a reporting measure sponsored in the House by Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat.

``The tax wasn't my idea,'' Kerttula said. ``The reporting side was, but I can certainly understand why the Senate put it (the tax) on.''

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