With a Celebrity ship as a backdrop,Gov. Sean Parnell signs SB 312 Thursday. From left: Bob Dindinger, Alaska Travel Adventures; Rep. Cathy Muñoz; Gov. Parnell; Tanja Cadigan, owner, Caribou Crossings; and John Binkley, president, Alaska Cruise Association.

ACA President John Binkley thanks the governor, Legislature and members of the visitor industry for their support of SB 312 and remarks how quickly it became law.

Leaders say bill helps small businesses around state

In front of a small locally owned business called Caribou Crossings, Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation Thursday designed to make Alaska more competitive with destinations around the world and stimulate economic growth for small businesses throughout the state.

“He is the first governor in all the 25 years that I’ve been in this business that reached out and wrapped his arms around us and cared about our industry,” said Tanja Cadigan, owner of Caribou Crossings.

Parnell’s action will help boost tourism “on all levels, small businesses and big businesses, 16-year-olds and 76-year-olds – he’s keeping us all in business,” Cadigan said.

The governor signed Senate Bill 312, legislation that adjusts the cruise passenger head tax from $46 per head to $34.50, and includes an offset for passengers who pay additional entry fees in Ketchikan and Juneau.

The legislation comes after cruise lines redeployed three ships this season and reduced the itinerary of a fourth.

"What’s really remarkable is how the visitor industry, the governor and the Legislature worked so well together to get this vital legislation passed," said John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association (ACA). "There were just 32 short days between the governor’s trip to Miami to meet with cruise line leaders and the final vote in the Senate."

The legislation was strongly supported by a group of Alaska businesses, united under the banner Alaska Alliance for Cruise Travel (AlaskaACT), whose members dedicated hundreds of hours educating the public and elected officials.

“AlaskaACT members have reason to celebrate this important step toward reviving our tourism industry,” AlaskaACT President Bob Berto said. “Their voices were heard throughout the legislative session and again today in a show of support at the bill signing in Juneau. We truly value our members and look forward to continuing work on tourism-related issues affecting our state.”

"Passage of this bill sends a clear message that Alaska values visitors and tourism investment. Alaska’s families, businesses and communities are better positioned now for tourism growth," Parnell said.

“This is about strengthening Alaska’s economy and protecting small businesses. It is about jobs, and it is about a decent, sustainable quality of life for Alaska families," said Curtis Thayer, deputy commissioner for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The visitor industry accounts for more than 40,000 Alaska jobs during the peak summer months and $3.4 billion in direct and indirect spending. After many years of growth, Alaska experienced a sharp decline in visitation in 2009 and again in 2010. Over this two-year period, the state lost more than 260,000 visitors, $420 million in direct and indirect spending and as many as 5,000 Alaska jobs.

“Alaskans prosper with robust cruise travel. We’d like to see ships taken out of the Alaska trade restored or replaced. We think it’s a good idea to cut the head tax to accomplish that,” the Anchorage Daily News stated in an editorial.

With the governor’s signature, the state has satisfied an agreement with the Alaska Cruise Association that calls for the industry trade group to drop its lawsuit against the state to nullify the excise tax.

Binkley said the ACA would like to thank the governor and the legislators who supported SB 312. House members include: Alan Austerman, Mike Chenault, Harry Crawford, Nancy Dahlstrom, Bryce Edgmon, Anna Fairclough, Neal Foster, John Harris, Mike Hawker, Bob Herron, Kyle Johansen, Craig Johnson, Reggie Joule, Wes Keller, Mike Kelly, Beth Kerttula, Bob Lynn, Charisse Millett, Cathy Muñoz, Mark Neuman, Kurt Olson, Pete Petersen, Jay Ramras, Bill Stoltze, Chris Tuck, Peggy Wilson and Tammie Wilson.

Senate supporters include: Con Bunde, John Coghill, Bettye Davis, Fred Dyson, Dennis Egan, Lyman Hoffman, Charlie Huggins, Albert Kookesh, Lesil McGuire, Linda Menard, Kevin Meyer, Donny Olson, Joe Paskvan, Bert Stedman, Gary Stevens, Joe Thomas and Tom Wagoner.

The legislation goes into effect Oct. 31.

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