House kills $50 passenger tax

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

A $50 statewide head tax on cruise ship passengers passed the state Senate on Thursday. But it's already been declared dead in the House.

Rep. Gail Phillips made that announcement in a 4-foot-long banner taped to her office door: ``SB 308 has run aground!!!''

``It's been referred to my committee, and my committee is closed down,'' Phillips, a Homer Republican, said this morning. She is chairwoman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Senate Bill 308 passed the Senate 14-6, with Juneau Democratic Sen. Kim Elton voting in favor. Under the legislation, the first five communities a cruise ship visits in Alaska would each receive $5 of the $50 tax. The rest would go to the state to be spent on state-owned ports and harbors.

The bill also requires cruise ships to file reports on what level of pollution is in their air emissions and water discharges.

Sen. Rick Halford said the tax is reasonable. ``This is all of Alaska for $50,'' the Chugiak Republican said. ``It is very comparable to the costs they deal with in the rest of the world.''

House Majority Leader Joe Green said this morning he thought the bill had a chance in the House because, while many Republican majority members have refused to consider any new taxes, this tax is different.

It applies to a group of people who are considered most able to afford a tax - cruise ship passengers - and it doesn't apply to Alaskans. ``I think there could be pretty good support for it,'' said Green, an Anchorage Republican.

However, with the Legislature planning to adjourn next week, there might not be time to effectively make that argument to those who oppose any taxes, he said.

Phillips had no doubt that time was too short. Her committee has already shut down for the session and she has no intention of reopening it for SB 308, she said. It's far too late in the session to start talking about a major tax on one industry, she said.

Others echoed her assessment of the bill's chances. When Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder was asked if the bill had a prayer of passing, he replied, ``Better pray hard.'' And Rep. Pete Kott, an Eagle River Republican, described it as ``D-E-D: dead.''

The head tax provisions were added to the bill late Wednesday night in the Senate Finance Committee - only a day after Senate President Drue Pearce sent out a news release criticizing the cruise and other shipping industries for fighting against another bill she sponsored.

That bill, Senate Bill 273, would require the Alaska Railroad, plus cruise ships and other large vessels, to ensure they are prepared to respond to fuel spills. Tanker vessels carrying fuel as cargo are already covered by such a law, but ships that carry large amounts of fuel to power their own operations are not.

That bill stalled in Rep. Ramona Barnes' House World Trade and State and Federal Relations Committee.

Pearce insists the head tax is independent of the controversy over the spill response bill.

Barnes has complained the spill response bill leaves too many issues unresolved about what industry would have to do to comply and what the economic effects would be.

Instead of passing that bill, she proposed setting up a task force to study the issue. A resolution establishing such a task force passed the House 29-11. It still must be approved by the Senate.

Some House members argued against the task force, saying they fear it will delay action on an issue that needs attention. Others, however, said the Legislature has successfully used task forces to work out solutions to difficult issues in the past.

Juneau Reps. Bill Hudson, a Republican, and Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, voted against the task force resolution.

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