PUBLISHED: 5:27 PM on Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Cruising money
Head tax initiative goes to vote Aug. 22
To tax or not to tax Alaska cruise ship visitors seems to be the big question.

The initiative is on the Aug. 22 primary election ballot listed as Measure No. 2 and includes a $50 head tax, requirements to disclose the cruise ship's commission on shore excursions and have ocean rangers on board and taxes on gambling while in state waters.

Juneau attorney and a sponsor of the initiative Joe Geldhof said the measure has been in the works for years and holds cruise companies responsible to the state of Alaska.

"It's not to punish them. It just makes it easy for them to do what's right," Geldhof said. "Maritime culture has viewed the ocean as a place to dump."

He said the measure ensures environmental standards are met to uphold Alaska's scenic beauty and clean water. He said the tax money will be used for improvements that benefit the cruise industry for projects such as docks, public restrooms and new or improved facilities that will benefit tourists.

"It (Measure No. 2) was designed by Alaskans to put Alaskans to work to make Alaska the best cruise destination in the world," Geldhof said. "People were not out to get the cruise industry. It was calculated to bring enough revenue to mitigate the impact of one million people a year."

Alaskans Protecting Our Economy, a group of businesses and individuals opposing the measure, said the initiative is complicated and will hurt the state. The group's Web site,, sites that the measure would require confidential business information and documents about Alaskan small businesses be disclosed on all promotional materials in 14-size font and in a contrasting color.

Tim McDonnell, vice president of tours and marketing of Temsco Helicopters, Inc., said the consumer may not always understand the breakdown of costs for companies, which could hurt business.

"It's another cumbersome way to do business," McDonnell said.

Wayne Stevens of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce said the measure contains several items, such as requiring businesses to post their pricing commissions, are not essential.

"What does that accomplish? It's the only place in the business world to post business information of that extent," Stevens said.

Cruise ship visitors already pay a head tax in Juneau and Ketchikan, and Stevens said an additional state head tax would discourage tourists from coming to Alaska.

"It's an economic decision, and it will have an impact," Stevens said.

Gershon Cohen of Haines, a sponsor of the initiative, said the cruise ship industry is not paying its share of taxes, and that the extra fee will not keep tourists from visiting the state.

"I think that it's way past time that the cruise ship industry pay their part," Cohen said. "Frankly I think it's ridiculous. I don't believe that $50, less than what it costs to fill a car, is going to keep people away."

Cohen said he thinks the cruise industry is buying the election by placing a strong advertising campaign.

"This campaign has really brought out how big money can buy out our democracy," Cohen said. "It does a real disservice to our society. They can then turn around and use money to impact our electoral process. There's something really wrong with this picture."

Cohen said the cruise ship industry at large is following measure in Alaska.

"It doesn't have anything to do with money for them. They're trying to stop a precedent from being set of people telling them what to do," Cohen said. "People are watching this all over because it's the first time a group of citizens got together and said, 'This is our home and we will decide how you operate.'"