Alaska editorial: A silver cruise-ship lining emerges from Capitol cloud

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This editorial appeared in The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:

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Illegal bribes and their effects have been in the headlines lately. Their toll on Alaskans, sad as it is immediately, may not be known fully for some time to come. But there is little doubt that the news will not be good for those who call this state home.

In the shadow of the unfolding fallout from and ongoing investigation into Capitol corruption, Alaskans scored a victory in a matter that involved bribes of the legal sort - campaign contributions. The contributions were showered on key legislators by the deep-pocketed cruise ship industry, whose army of lobbyists swarmed Juneau in recent weeks to see to it that the money was well spent.

Their target? The cruise ship initiative just passed by voters last summer.

Unhappy with the $50 passenger tax and increased government oversight mandated by the initiative, industry went to work to undo what voters had done. A handful of bills appeared in the House and Senate, each designed to chip away at the expressed will of voters.

House Bill 164, sought to undermine the requirement that marine engineers, or "ocean rangers," be onboard all vessels in Alaska waters to monitor compliance with environmental regulations. It was defeated soundly in a vote that was delayed three times, presumably to allow for more last-minute arm twisting in a controversial battle whose outcome was believed to be a tossup to the end.

As it turned out, though, perhaps seeing some uncomfortable writing on the wall after recent arrests, a majority of lawmakers, some even who had helped shepherd the bill through the committee process, voted against it.

All members of the Matanuska-Susitna House delegation were in the majority on the vote, except for Rep. Vic Kohring, who was not present.

Another bill that sought to give a tax rebate to the cruise industry nearly the size of the head tax was exiled to the legislative hinterlands of a late-session committee referral. Given the speed with which Senate Bill 168 was put up for a vote, it would appear that, in the wake of the corruption scandal and the defeat of House Bill 164, senators were not inclined to pass industry-friendly legislation that undermined the recent voter-approved initiative.

Or maybe the timing on the demise of both bills is coincidental. Maybe the change of heart by lawmakers was sincere and borne of a genuine concern for constituents' interests.

Whatever the case, one thing is certain: We finally have some good news from within the walls of state government. Some legislators may find their campaign coffers a bit lighter in the next election as a result, but those who matter most - Alaskans - have been well served by the defeat of House Bill 164 and the removal of Senate Bill 168 from consideration.

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