Ketchikan voters nix head tax

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2001

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- Residents of this Southeast Alaska city have voted down a $5 head tax on visiting cruise ship passengers.

According to unofficial results, 64 percent of the city's voters cast a ''no'' ballot Tuesday, while 36 percent voted in favor a passenger fee.

''I think the campaign that we ran was pivotal, said Patti Mackey, a member of the anti-fee group Team Ketchikan.

''We tried to present as much factual information as possible, and I think we clearly showed the community that tourism is paying its fair share,'' Mackey told the Ketchikan Daily News.

With more than 600,000 cruise ship passengers expected to visit Ketchikan this summer, the fee would have raised about $3 million. Up to 50 percent of the money would have gone to vocational education. The rest would have been used for improvements to visitor-related industry infrastructure, partly in hopes of easing congested downtown traffic during the summer months.

Opponents of the head tax fee, however, questioned whether the cash could be used to help fund vocational education. The group also feared the possibility of cruise lines cutting port time or bypassing Ketchikan altogether.

''I think the biggest factor was fear,'' said John Cote (KO'-tay), a member of the pro-fee group Concerned Citizens for Responsible Tourism. ''People are afraid the ships are going to go away. I think that was it in a nutshell.''

In the weeks leading up to the vote, several cruise line officials had said they would have to look at other options if the Ketchikan head tax was imposed. That would include making port calls at Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

The Canadian city, about 90 miles south of Ketchikan, is aggressively courting cruise ship business. Team Ketchikan's Mackey, who also is executive director of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, said cruise lines don't have to stop in Ketchikan.

''The fact is that we aren't the capital and there are other ports, such as Sitka and Prince Rupert, that could easily start absorbing some of our cruise ship traffic.''

Turnout was low, running about 32 percent of the city's registered voters. Some observers blamed some of that on an initiative petition circulating around the state that would impose a $75 fee on cruise ship passengers visiting Alaska.

The initiative also would require monitoring vessel emissions and discharges, would impose corporate income taxes and would give the state 33 percent of all gambling-generated revenue.

Backers are hoping to get the initiative on Alaska's 2002 general election ballot.

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