Cruise ship initiative sponsors back on the attack

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) Sponsors of a sweeping initiative to impose taxes and more strict regulations on the cruise ship industry are again awaiting a determination by the state to move forward.

The group amended its proposal on Thursday to meet legal concerns raised by Attorney General Gregg Renkes.

Sponsors hope the initiative will be approved by the lieutenant governor in enough time to gather more than 23,000 signatures to get the measure on the 2004 ballot.

''We're unaware of any other problems that would be grounds to turn this down,'' said Joe Geldhof, one of the initiative sponsors.

Lt. Gov. Loren Leman turned down the initiative after a legal review concluded that it violated the ''single subject'' requirement for such voter measures.

Renkes also concluded it had other potential legal problems that would keep it off the ballot.

Sponsors redrafted the initiative and gathered more than 100 signatures required for Leman to certify it and allow the group to begin circulating petition booklets statewide.

''We hope to get the booklets by next Monday,'' Geldhof said.

The proposed ballot measure would impose a $46 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 forcing more stringent environmental and commercial rules on cruise ships.

Cruise ships would be required to perform more rigorous sampling of waste generated while in Alaska waters and to obtain state permits to dump waste. A $4-per-berth tax on each ship would also be imposed to pay for an ''ocean ranger,'' who would assure compliance with state and federal regulations.

The initiative would require cruise ships to divulge to customers the commission paid by sales of shore excursions.

The effort is sponsored by environmentalists Gershon Cohen and Norman Sarabia and Geldhof, who is an attorney for the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association.

Each year, the cruise ship industry brings about 700,000 people to Alaska during the summer months, stopping mostly in ports within Southeast Alaska.

Critics complain that the industry does not pay state taxes that other industries are subject to and contributes to pollution.

But cruise ship officials who have opposed past proposals in the Legislature to impose taxes and more regulations contend the proposed initiative would have a chilling effect on state tourism.

''It would be a signal that if you are coming from the Lower 48 visiting Alaska, that there would be basically an entrance fee to get into the state,'' said John Hansen, president of the North West Cruiseship Association in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The group, which represents the nine major cruise lines, plans to oppose the initiative, Hansen said.

Alaska already has stringent environmental standards that the cruise ships are meeting, Hansen said. Alaska banned cruise ships from dumping raw sewage along the coast two years ago.

Cruise lines have signed agreements with the states of Florida and Hawaii not to discharge waste, Hansen said. The cruise lines are working on similar agreements with Washington state and Canada, he said.

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