Alaska editorial: Vote no on cruise tax

Posted: Friday, July 14, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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Ballot Initiative 2 on the Aug. 22 ballot is un-Alaskan. Under the initiative, commercial passenger ships would be charged $46 per passenger if they provide overnight accommodations while in Alaska water. Cruiseline companies would be responsible for collecting the tax and passing it along to the state for deposit in a commercial vessel passenger tax account.

The state would be allowed to spend the money on state-owned port and harbor facilities and in providing services to water craft, to enhance the safety and efficiency of interstate and foreign commerce and other lawful purposes as determined by the Legislature.

The state would be required to monitor the sailing of every ship into Alaska and identify each ship's first five ports of call and the number of passengers at each port. Then the Legislature would direct $5 per passenger of the tax collected to each port. If the port were located in a city within a borough, then each government would receive $2.50. The governments would be limited to using the tax revenue for the same purposes as the state.

The state also would receive 25 percent of the passenger tax for deposit into a sub account of the passenger tax account. The sub account would be the regional cruise ship impact fund. This tax revenue would be distributed to cities and other governmental entities within Prince William Sound, Southeast or any other region affected by cruise tourism, but not eligible for a $5 portion of the tax.

This 25 percent ensures that communities such as Anchorage and Fairbanks receive a portion of the passenger fee. They would be required to use it for the same purposes as the state and first five ports. This is included in the initiative to attract voter support in the state's largest population centers.

Communities currently charging a passenger or similar fee would be barred from collecting it, under the initiative. That means Ketchikan, which charges a fee to cover the cost of port improvements, wouldn't be allowed to do so unless it elected not to receive a portion of the $46 per passenger.

Ketchikan would receive less at $5 per passenger than it receives now; it likely would opt out because it collects more than it would under the rules provided by the initiative.

The initiative also requires ships to acquire a permit before discharging any treated sewage, graywater or other wastewater from a large ship into state water. It says the cruise lines must maintain records of discharges, collect and test samples, allow the state to verify the integrity of the sampling and provide records and reports to the state.

The cruise lines already test and provide discharge information to the state.

Additionally, the cruise lines would be required to pay for all of the expense associated with the enhanced record keeping and reporting.

Ships would be required to report their locations hourly while in Alaska waters.

In addition to the taxes and enhanced sampling, recording and reporting, the cruise lines would be required to welcome a marine engineer licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard or retained by the state to act as an independent observer of the shipboard sanitation, health and safety practices. The ships would be charged $4 per passenger to cover the cost of the observers, called "ocean rangers."

The initiative allows any Alaskan to file a lawsuit against a cruise line or the state for failure to comply with the rules in the initiative. A possible plaintiff would notify the state of the intent to sue, and then the state apparently would have the option to act within 45 days to prevent the lawsuit.

Of course, the initiative doesn't say that. It just says that whoever intends to sue would collect as much as 50 percent of any fines, penalties or other funds if victorious in court. That means an extreme environmental group could notify the state of what it thought was a possible violation, file suit and then collect as much as 50 percent of any possible penalty.

The initiative is a poorly worded piece of legislation spearheaded by Outside environmental parties interested in damaging Alaskans and Alaska industry. It takes the power to legislate from the Legislature elected by Alaskans and gives it to Outsiders, meaning they impose two new taxes and dictate how the state's general fund operates. Perhaps Alaskans like parts of the initiative. If so, then Alaskans, through their elected representatives, should propose laws. But the way the initiative is written, it might as well be a holdup.

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