Tomorrow, Alaska’s primary election will include an important ballot measure that imposes new regulations and taxes on the cruise ship industry. For environmental protection, it includes beefed-up regulations that will hold cruise corporations more accountable to Alaska’s strict pollution controls, as well as allowing civil action suits against violators.
For economic growth, it proposes a head tax on all cruise passengers coming into the state, the revenue of which will be used for services and infrastructure related to the cruise industry. Further, it will tax income from onboard gambling and force companies to pay corporate income tax. And it will require onboard tour sellers to disclose how much they mark up tours from the price offered directly from the tour operators on shore.
Essentially, this ballot measure seeks to diminish or eliminate many perverse subsidies, environmental and economic, that the cruise industry currently enjoys. For example, besides the fact that Alaskans are the ones suffering the consequences of cruise-ship pollution, most tourism-related infrastructure, the benefits of which are mostly for the cruise lines and their passengers, is funded by Alaskan taxpayers. Taxing the companies themselves to pay for such improvements begins to “close the loop” in an industry that has reached such a scale that it might be described as “extractive.” It also frees up tax dollars for other projects that benefit local residents, and, inevitably, makes Alaska a more desirable destination. Further, it encourages visitors to spend their money directly with local businesses, rather than giving another cut to the cruise lines.
As the ADN article describes, the cruise industry is vehemently opposed to this measure, calling it “anti-tourism” and “bad for local business.” In fact, it is neither of these. Trying to capitalize on fear, arguments against the ballot measure claim that the extra $50 will reduce passenger numbers and hurt local businesses. I have not seen any evidence that this would occur, and I can’t imagine that anyone buying a cruise tour would even notice the extra cost, assuming it wasn’t internalized or incorporated into hidden expenditures. And it certainly doesn’t have “anti-tourism” intentions, since more passengers means more tax income for Alaska.
This ballot measure gives Alaskans the chance to begin leveling the playing field and get their fair share from an industry that has been running roughshod over the environment and local communities for decades. And it could set a precedent for other states and countries who face similar exploitation.