Backers of a statewide ballot initiative to impose taxes and additional environmental regulation on the cruise ship industry have decided to hold off until state regulators and lawmakers have time to take additional action.
A bill passed by the Legislature in a June special session already has addressed "several key environmental components of the petition," said Gershon Cohen, a Haines-based water-quality activist and co-drafter of the petition.
"The new law doesn't address all of the outstanding water quality concerns, but it does allow the state to sample more waste streams for more pollutants and require the industry to meet the state's water quality standards," Cohen said. "At this point we are willing to wait and see what the Knowles administration will accomplish during the negotiated rule-making process, before deciding whether to move forward again with the initiative."
Sponsors submitted the petition to Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer for review in the spring, but pulled it back for revisions after the special session.
The initiative had called for a $75 state head tax, a 33 percent tax on on-board gambling and a corporate income tax.
Karen Jettmar of Equinox Wilderness Expeditions in Anchorage, a co-sponsor of the initiative, said fiscal issues related to the cruise industry still need to be addressed by the administration and the Legislature.
Princess Cruises spokesman Tom Dow of Seattle said the pending initiative has worried industry officials.
"It has been a concern because we think it would have a dramatic negative impact on businesses in Alaska by driving the price up," Dow said. "That is even a bigger concern now following the events of Sept. 11," with the public's general reluctance to travel as a result of the terrorist attacks, he said. "It will be a more challenging and more difficult year next year than it was this year. ... The business is somewhat vulnerable right now."
Any taxes aimed exclusively at the tourism industry would create more negative buzz among travel agents and travel writers, with the result that shoreside spending would drop as the price of a cruise goes up, Dow said. That's a point that the industry will stress to legislators during the 2002 session, he said.
Bill McAllister can be reached at email@example.com.