This week we salute the citizens of Alaska
for giving the world another lesson about the risks and rewards of
democracy -- in this case for demonstrating once again that
majorities sometimes make mistakes.
We refer, of
course, to the ballot initiative that will impose new taxes,
environmental rules and disclosure requirements on cruise lines
operating in Alaska.
What we have always
found most troubling about this initiative is the latent animosity
behind it, the idea that cruise lines and their passengers are mere
outlanders, interlopers and despoilers, objects of suspicion who
deserve to be taxed and monitored because theyre not from around
could be more damaging than the actual content of the legislation,
though that is damaging enough.
We have no quarrel
with fair taxes on commerce, and we applaud the authors of the
Alaska proposal for requiring that much of the proceeds be used to
improve port and harbor facilities. But are Alaskas ports and
harbors so shabby that the state must tax out-of-state visitors $46
per person to improve them?
Nor would we
quarrel with a reasonable tax on gambling receipts, but is 33%
As for the
environment, Alaska is free to exceed federal standards with its
local air and water pollution laws, just as California has done
with auto emissions. But is it a bit hypocritical for Alaska to
exempt its own vessels?
And what purpose is
served by a rule requiring cruise lines to disclose the wholesale
rates they get from local sightseeing firms and shore excursion
If the goal here is
to protect cruise guests from price-gouging, why are the wholesale
rates of local tour operators put under this spotlight when Alaskas
souvenir merchants and mail-order salmon houses are not?
Is the purpose of
this legislation to protect consumers or to make cruise lines
The beauty of
democracy, however, is that its a dynamic process. Misguided
majorities can learn from their mistakes. Cooler heads can prevail
and often do.
It is our hope that
in time, Alaskas citizens, legislators and judges will come to
their senses and take some of the rough edges off this piece of
Offsetting the troubling news from Alaska
are two little bright spots elsewhere in the cruise business,
specifically the Cape May Light and the Cape Cod Light.
Built a half-decade
ago for the defunct American Classic Voyages, these small coastal
cruisers are being rescued from oblivion by Hornblower Marine
Services and may be returned to U.S.-flag service in the Great
Lakes and elsewhere.
When these ships
were being built, we expressed the view that in a world dominated
by mega-ships, there ought to be a place in the cruise industrys
product line for small coastal cruisers offering itineraries
featuring interesting but modest ports like Annapolis, Md.;
Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Bar Harbor, Maine; Sault Ste.
Marie, Ontario; maybe even Sitka and Haines, Alaska.
veteran Rod McLeod, who was in the captains chair when the Cape May
Light made its maiden voyage in 2001, expresses the hope in our
news pages today that the ships will at last get a fair test in the
market and find a good home.
We second the