Initiative seeks $50 tax for state, more stringent pollution regs

Posted: Thursday, October 21, 2004

Alaska voters may get another chance to decide whether the state should impose a $50 head tax and require water pollution permits for cruise ships.

The Juneau-based group Responsible Cruising in Alaska filed a petition with more than 29,000 signatures supporting those proposals with the state Division of Elections on Tuesday afternoon. The coalition wants Lt. Gov. Loren Leman to place its initiative on a 2006 statewide ballot.

The coalition initially had hoped to have the proposal on the 2004 ballot.

"It will give Alaskans a chance to come to terms with a very large industry that has grown quickly and has a significant impact on the way we live," said Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney and member of Responsible Cruising in Alaska.

The proposal would impose a $50 tax on each cruise ship passenger and a 33 percent tax on shipboard gambling income. It also would subject cruise ships' dumping in state waters to wastewater permits, which are required for other Alaska industries.

Additionally, the proposed initiative would require cruise ships to pay for licensed observers on their boats, much like the Bering Sea fishers who pay observers who travel on their fishing vessels.

The Alaska Legislature briefly took up a bill to tax cruise ships last year. In 2003, Responsible Cruising in Alaska attempted but was ultimately unable to place a similar initiative on the 2004 ballot.

The 2003 initiative was opposed by the cruise ship industry. A group called the Visitors Benefit Alaska Coalition has taken out ads in newspapers asking residents not to sign the 2004 petition.

On Tuesday, before the petition was officially lodged, Ron Beck of the Alaska Travel Industry Association told Alaska State Chamber of Commerce members in Juneau at their annual convention and trade show that a $50 head tax and gambling tax would hurt Alaska tourism venues' "ability to compete" and he said it was "good news" that the 2003 petition did not make it on the 2004 ballot.

Geldhof said the initiative will bring the cruise ship industry into a level playing field with other industries.

"I find it ironic that the cruise industry marginalizes anyone who supports a tax regime," said Geldhof, an attorney for the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.

Naomi Nelson, an election coordinator for the state, said her division has 60 days to review and verify signatures on the petition. The division will send a memo to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on whether enough valid signatures 23,285 were submitted. Leman then decides on whether to certify the petition and place it on the ballot.



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