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Alaska Editorials

Associated Press Updated: April 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm
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Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

April 5, 2015

Juneau Empire: Take head taxes off the chopping block

There's more than a little wear and tear when a million pairs of feet thump Juneau's sidewalks each summer. There's more than a few potholes that grow in our streets as buses and vans carry hundreds of thousands of tourists on sightseeing excursions. There's quite a few more toilet flushes, drinks from a water fountain and meals eaten here when tourists arrive.

It's all part of the price for being Alaska's most popular tourism destination.

We're not just patting ourselves on the back here. According to the Alaska Resource Development Council, the state saw 1.96 million visitors in 2013. About 1 million of those tourists visited on a cruise ship. The overwhelming majority of cruise ship passengers stopped in Juneau.

That's why our heads are spinning at the news that lawmakers want Alaska to keep the entire state cruise ship head tax.

Alaska's head tax is $34.50 per passenger ($23.50 for those stopping in Juneau and Ketchikan because each city has its own head tax). Juneau's total cut is $13 per cruise ship passenger. The money goes toward dock and harbor improvements and other features that encourage the cruise industry to come here.

Tourism is Alaska's second-largest private employer, but this industry also inflicts costs on the public. We have a head tax to offset this cost.

Taking communities' share of the head tax is hobbling them at the knees. Head tax dollars are earmarked for tourism-related projects. Juneau's planned Panamax cruise ship docks are possible because of the state and local head tax. The same goes for the Juneau Seawalk. And let's not forget that cruise ship tourists — all 1 million of them — want functioning restrooms and level sidewalks.

The $5 million annually that Juneau stands to lose would have to be made up through the city's budget. We don't know where that money would come from. We're stretching dollars pretty thin as it is.

We won't gripe about revenue sharing going away, or about some of the reductions happening to the marine highway — everyone has to take their lickings this year and probably next — but head tax revenue is possible because the communities that make up Southeast Alaska work hard to maintain a vibrant tourism industry.

We don't have oil and gas jobs. We make up for that with tourism. But promoting tourism and maintaining a warm, welcoming atmosphere comes with costs. Juneau's Panamax dock project will cost about $54 million, for example. Once finished, it will lead to increased revenue, more jobs and more head tax revenue that can be shared by all.

If Juneau and other Southeast communities can't afford infrastructure to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors who wash up on our shores annually, the industry will surely suffer as it did in 2010 when cruise agencies redistributed vessels elsewhere. We fear the same will happen again if towns institute or increase local head taxes to make up the difference. If that happens, the state will see less revenue, too. While communities may be hobbled, the state will still be cutting off a few toes.

This situation feels a bit like marine highway robbery. By putting state head tax dollars in the general fund, the fees generated from Southeast tourists could instead be used to pave Interior roads or cover the costs of some far-away project.

It's one thing if lawmakers want to reduce cities' take. As we said before, these are tough times and everyone must take a cut. But keeping it all is nothing short of a capitol shakedown. The state already has a corporate tax applied exclusively to cruise lines and a 33 percent casino tax on all gambling profits aboard ships. The Senate's proposal feels greedy and short-sighted.

We encourage lawmakers in the House to fight this usurpation of state head tax dollars, if not for the sake of the communities that rely on tourism then for the state itself, which stands much to lose if its port cities can no longer keep up with the wear and tear that comes with being a tourism mecca.

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April 2, 2015

Juneau Empire: Better safe than sorry

Tuesday's scare at the Juneau International Airport appears to be much ado about nothing. For about 30 minutes that morning, however, we're certain a plethora of worst-case scenarios played out in the heads of passengers and authorities after a single bullet was found on a jetway.

But should this be treated as a big deal? Big enough to warrant evacuating a departure lounge and two planes? After all, this is Alaska; home of avid hunters and a popular destination for those who want to bag big game.

Sadly, everything is a big deal these days. The cost of under-reacting in a post-Sept. 11 world is no longer an option. Every possible threat has to be dealt with.

The issue comes down to liability, and if authorities see a red flag and do nothing they must shoulder all the blame if chaos ensues.

We won't likely see an exact repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks anytime soon. To clarify, we mean it isn't likely that a handful of individuals would be allowed to hijack commercial flights with box cutters as passengers sit idly by. Our national fear of flying reached the point years ago when not even toenail clippers could be taken on a plane. This isn't how flying should be, but that is the stark reality of the world we now live in.

This grim realization was made even clearer recently when a German pilot intentionally crashed a plane into the side of a mountain, killing all 150 passengers on board. It's not just international threats that countries must worry about. The most pressing dangers, it seems, are originating closer and closer to home.

If only we could return to the nonthreatening normalcy of flying that Americans experienced in the past, but those times are long gone. That doesn't mean, however, that we must give in to every fear, either real or imagined.

Police and Transportation Security Administration officials have jobs to do and protocol to follow. We're glad they took the threat seriously, even if it ends up being for nothing. Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is why we have these safety checks in the first place. The inconvenience of having a flight delayed far outweighs the inconvenience of searching wreckage for a plane's black box and wondering what happened — and what preventative measures should have been taken.

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