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Backers of election initiative say they have the signatures

Proposal on cruise ship tax, regulations may not make it onto 2004 ballot

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Backers of an initiative requiring special elections to fill U.S. Senate vacancies said Monday they have more than 12,000 more signatures than they need to get the petition certified and put on the 2004 election ballot.

But another initiative requiring taxation and stricter environmental regulations of the cruise ship industry might have to wait until 2006 before a public vote, as might one tightening Alaska's campaign finance laws .

Initiative sponsors have until Jan. 12, 2004 - the first day of the legislative session - to collect 23,285 signatures from registered voters to get their prospective new laws on the ballot.

"I'm feeling good about (the Senate vacancy initiative)," said Karen Compton, a coordinator for Trust the People, an initiative group organizing the Senate vacancy and campaign finance initiatives. "But I hesitate to say that we're done."

Both initiatives are sponsored by House Democrats Eric Croft and Harry Crawford of Anchorage and David Guttenberg of Fairbanks.

Signature validity rates typically hover around 75 percent, according to the state Division of Elections. But those numbers in the past have been as low as 61.6 percent and as high as 88 percent. Compton said the group aims to collect 38,000 signatures total in the Senate vacancy initiative to account for invalid entries.

But while things are looking bright for the Senate vacancy initiative, another proposal by Trust the People is not doing so well. Petitioners for the campaign finance reform initiative have collected just over 10,000 signatures - more than 13,000 short of the goal.

Compton said while many are quick to sign the Senate vacancy initiative they often are hesitant to sign the campaign finance reform petition because they don't understand how it pertains to them.

"It's just not as popular with the people," she said. "It doesn't resonate."

Under the proposal, lobbyists would have to register with the state after spending more than 10 hours a month lobbying lawmakers.

It also would reduce the amount individuals can donate to candidates from $1,000 to $500, and reduce the amount individuals are allowed to donate to a political party from $10,000 to $5,000. The proposal would also decrease the amount political action committees can contribute to political parties from $4,000 to $1,000, and decrease the amount political action committees can contribute to candidates from $2,000 to $1,000.

If the group does not collect the remaining 13,000-plus signatures by the January deadline, the initiative will have to wait for the next statewide election in 2006.

Gershon Cohen, sponsor of an initiative to tax and enforce stricter environmental regulations on the cruise ship industry, said he is unsure how many signatures have been collected.

"We still have over 300 books out," he said.

He said the group has signature gatherers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and other mid-sized cities pushing hard to make the January deadline.

The proposal would impose a $50 head tax, a 33 percent onboard gambling tax and a corporate income tax on the industry. It also increases the fines for dumping wastewater and requires ships to have a certified marine engineer to monitor wastewater treatment.

"My sense is that we are very close," Cohen said, noting Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal earlier this month to tax the industry has given the ballot initiative a boost. "It certainly doesn't hurt us to have the Murkowski Administration realize that this is a source of revenue."

Cohen said the group will continue gathering signatures to get the question on the 2006 ballot.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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