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Court leaves cruise tax on August ballot

Initiative proposes $50 per passenger

Posted: Monday, May 15, 2006

Alaska's August election ballot will include an initiative seeking to impose a $50 tax on each cruise passenger coming to Alaska, the state Supreme Court decided last week.

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North West Cruiseship Association of Alaska and 11 other plaintiffs challenged petitions submitted by the initiative's sponsors in Oct. 2004, claiming the state Division of Elections wrongly certified them. The case was appealed after a February ruling in Anchorage Superior Court sent against the plaintiffs.

Justices did not explain the order released Thursday. Noting short deadlines for ballot preparation, the order states a written opinion explaining will follow at a later date.

"When you can't fill up a pickup truck with gas for 50 bucks, (the proposed head tax) won't stop anyone from taking a cruise," said Cohen Cohen, of Haines, one of the authors of the cruise ship ballot initiative.

The plaintiffs raised questions about the legitimacy of the signatures. They contended, for example, that it was impossible to determine if the petition signers were qualified voters at the time they signed because they were not required to add a date next to their name or show a voter identification card.

Web links

The North West Cruiseship Association can be found at http://nwcruiseship.org/

Sponsors of the initiative can be found at http://www.responsible cruising.org/

Calls placed Friday afternoon to the North West Cruiseship Association, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, were not returned. But the association's Web site has a page stating its opposition to the proposal, which it says "contains a number of onerous provisions." It alleges those provisions will "expand the size of state government without providing any additional benefit to the people of Alaska."

Taxing each passenger $50 could reduce the number of people who come to Alaska, the cruise industry association states. The initiative also proposes to tax revenues for gambling conducted in Alaska waters at 33 percent. "This provision could encourage ships to spend less time in Alaska waters and ports," the association's arguments against the initiative state.

The measure also would apply Alaska corporate taxes to international cruise vessels sailing in Alaska waters. The cruise association notes that other sorts of international vessels would not have to pay the tax.

The initiative sponsors say the federal Maritime Transportation Securities Act requires that proceeds from the $50 tax be spent on "servicing the industry. "Given this restriction, we believe the Alaska Legislature will disperse the revenue fairly to Alaska communities," a statement from the initiative group asserts.

They project that if divided fairly to ports of call, Haines could receive $165,000 in a season. Sitka could receive $1.25 million. Juneau and Skagway each could receive $4.5 million.

The statement says they brought about the initiative because community and legislative efforts to regulate the cruise industry have been defeated by lobbying and public relations campaigns.

According to the sponsors, cruise lines were exempted by the Legislature in 1998 from paying corporate taxes on marine revenue. Additionally, every gaming operator in Alaska pays 33 percent of profits to charity and taxes. If the initiative passes, cruise lines "will again pay the same rate paid by everyone else," the sponsors wrote.

In April, Princess Tours President Charlie Ball addressed the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, urging opposition to the initiative, which he labeled "anti-development" and "anti-business."

Cohen said the money raised would go to benefit the industry. Adding $50 to the price of an Alaska cruise isn't going to make someone choose to vacation in New Jersey, he added.



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