AG: cruise ship initiative should be rejected

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Attorney General Gregg Renkes is recommending that a wide-sweeping voter initiative to impose taxes and stringent regulations on cruise ships in Alaska waters should be rejected.

Renkes said the initiative violates the so-called ''single subject rule,'' a state prohibition against legislation on varied topics.

It could also create a conflict with federal law and a state constitutional provision against dedicated funds, he said in a memo to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Friday.

Leman is considering whether to certify a petition to allow sponsors of the initiative to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the 2004 ballot.

The lieutenant governor could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday. Renkes also could not be reached for comment.

The initiative would impose a $50 tax for each cruise ship passenger and a 33 percent tax on shipboard gambling income.

It also proposes making the industry subject to the state's corporate income tax and force more stringent environmental and commercial rules on ships that travel to Alaska each summer.

The initiative effort is sponsored by environmentalists Gershon Cohen and Karen Jettmar, and Joe Geldhof, an attorney for a maritime union.

The group plans to review the attorney general's recommendation and fix the flaws in their initiative by next week, said Geldhof, who represents the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.

''Sooner or later this initiative is going to be circulated and this will be on the ballot in either the general election in 2004 or 2006,'' Geldhof said. ''This issue is way too important to ignore.''

They have been critical of the industry's economic and environmental record in Alaska and dissatisfied with the Legislature's record on dealing with the issue.

Lawmakers have considered a so-called ''cruise ship head tax'' for several years, but have never passed such a measure. Gov. Frank Murkowski this year had proposed a $15 wildlife-viewing fee that would have been imposed on both cruise ship passengers and other tourists.

Each year, the cruise ships bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to Southeast Alaska and other ports along the coast.

Critics complain that the industry pays no state taxes and contributes to pollution.

The proposed initiative would also require ships to get permits before discharging waste in Alaska waters and require independent observers on board the ships to monitor environmental standards.

And, it would require cruise ships to divulge to customers the commission paid by sales of shore excursions.

The proposed initiative would repeal a law passed several years ago that effectively exempted cruise ships from the state corporate income tax.

Cruise industry officials have promised to fight the initiative, arguing it would deter people from coming to Alaska.

Initiative sponsors filed their request in April and have complained the state's delays in certifying the petition could make it more difficult to gather the more than 23,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot.

Initiative groups typically take advantage of large summer events such as the Alaska State Fair in Palmer to gather signatures.

''You just can't collect signatures in bad weather,'' said Cohen. ''You have to get this done in the summer.''

It's unclear when Leman will make a final decision on certifying the petition.

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