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 here.

Those attitudes 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% reasonable?

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 operators?

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 squirm?

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 frontier legislating.

Bright spots

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.

Cruise industry 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 motion.    

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