State fights cruise lines' claims in tax lawsuit

Posted: Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The state of Alaska filed court arguments Tuesday stating that the cruise ship industry's legal challenge to an upcoming voter initiative for a $46-per-passenger cruise ship tax undermines Alaskans' right to use the initiative process.

It also violates longstanding procedures of the state Division of Elections, according to the state's arguments.

The North West Cruiseship Association of Alaska and more than a dozen of its supporters sued the state last January after it approved the tax initiative for the 2006 ballot. The plaintiffs have since asked the 3rd Judicial District of the Alaska Superior Court to invalidate more than 1,000 signatures collected during the initiative process.

If the court agrees, the initiative sponsors, the Juneau-based Responsible Cruising in Alaska, would no longer have enough signatures to qualify for the 2006 ballot.

The state has asked the Superior Court in Anchorage to summarily reject the industry's lawsuit. Both parties previously agreed that the case does not require a trial and that they want the court to make its ruling based on legal grounds, according to attorneys involved in the case.

Oral arguments in the case are set for Oct. 10 in Anchorage.

The state Department of Law claimed Tuesday that the cruise ship industry would have the court impose "exacting standards" for voter registration and petition affidavits that go "far beyond anything required to date by the Division of Elections."

Assistant State Attorney General Sara Felix said these are "very picky, technical complaints."

"They (the industry) call for an overly strict interpretation of the requirements for an initiative petition," Felix said.

The North West Cruiseship Association provided a copy of its legal arguments late Tuesday but could not be reached for comment on the state's arguments by press time.

Aside from its legal complaints, the cruise ship association has also warned state legislators and Juneau business officials that the proposed $46-per-passenger tax could reduce spending by cruise ship passengers in Alaska ports, such as Juneau.

The initiative would also tax gambling on cruise ships and create new environmental monitoring requirements for the boats when they are traveling in Alaska waters.

More than a dozen Alaskan companies and business groups that work with the cruise industry joined the lawsuit against the ballot initiative.

The cruise ship association's and its supporters' main complaint in the lawsuit is that they cannot verify that 1,202 of the registered voters who signed the petition were actually registered to vote on the day that they signed it.

The plaintiffs also want the Superior Court to throw out petition booklets from Anchorage that were not signed by a notary public. The industry argues that Anchorage petition circulators were not entitled to "self-certify" their petition books because they had access to professionals who could notarize the books.

Also disputed are signatures by voters who did not list a full street address or petition circulators who abbreviated the name of an organization that paid to circulate the books.

The state argues that the Division of Elections properly certified the required 23,286 signatures needed for the ballot initiative. The state further argues that the burden is on the plaintiffs to prove that the 1,202 signatures by voters who may or may not have been registered when they signed the booklets are invalid.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney who co-sponsored the ballot initiative for the cruise ship tax, said the cruise ship association's arguments are "rather extreme."

"They are pulling out all the stops to keep this off the ballot," Geldhof said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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