Confusion continues to reign concerning the proposed Ark Encounter project, how its developers intend to run it, and what Kentucky law actually provides and requires. Herewith an attempt to set the record straight.
Mark Looy, Chief Communications Officer for Answers in Genesis (and curator of the Creation Museum), telephoned this Examiner today to reply to the latest canard against Ark Encounter LLC, the partnership that will actually own the park that will hold a full-scale wooden replica of Noah’s Ark. He confirmed what Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and AiG President Ken Ham have repeatedly stated: that though AiG is a “member” of Ark Encounter LLC (the stakeholders of a limited-liability company are called “members”), Ark Encounter LLC and not AiG will hire the park staff after building the park. And as a for-profit enterprise applying for a tax incentive under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, Ark Encounter LLC may not discriminate against anyone on the basis of non-adherence to the Christian faith, lifestyle choices, or any other criterion.
The distinction between Ark Encounter LLC and AiG is as sharp as it is legal. AiG is a non-profit organization, and in fact a ministry organization. (The Creation Museum is one of its ministries.) As such, AiG and the Museum have the perfect right to require all employees to subscribe to the AiG Statement of Faith. Ark Encounter LLC is organized for profit, and under Kentucky law, it may not impose any such requirement and has no plans so to act.
So when Julie Ingersoll, for example, said back in December, and again yesterday, that Ark Encounter would be not only permitted but required to ask all new hires to adhere to its Statement of Faith, her statements were and remain unfounded and unwarranted.
Concerning those tax incentives, and how they actually work: the Kentucky Tourism Development Act makes a clear provision on how they work.
This legislation is the first of its kind in the nation and provides the opportunity for developers of approved projects to recover up to 25% of their development costs over a ten-year period. While other states have attempted to duplicate this legislation, none have experienced the success of Kentucky. Projects utilizing the program include a $32 million aquarium, a $100 million speedway, and a $4 million glass artisan’s facility, among others. This program has encouraged the development of privately owned tourism attractions having investments totaling in excess of $372 million.
Ark Encounter, at $150 million, will likely be the largest such project to date.
Presumably, Ark Encounter will be a “recreational or entertainment center” within the meaning of the Act. As such it has applied for a partial refund of sales taxes to be collected from ticket sales, concession sales, souvenir sales, and the like, during the first ten years of the park’s operation.
It has already received preliminary approval by the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority. That Authority must now conduct its own study, at the expense of Ark Encounter LLC, to examine whether Ark Encounter:
- will attract by [the] fourth year of its operation at least…25% of its visitors from out-of-state;
- will cost more than one million dollars,
- will have a significant and positive economic impact on the Commonwealth by considering, among other factors, the extent to which the tourism attraction project will compete directly with existing tourism attractions in the Commonwealth and the amount by which increased tax revenues from the tourism attraction project will exceed the refund given to the approved company;
- will be open to the public for a minimum of one hundred (100) days per year;
- will not adversely affect existing employment in the Commonwealth.
(The sixth criterion applies only to “Entertainment Destination Centers,” which must use their tax refunds to contribute directly to public-infrastructure development.
Any State would find any project capable of achieving the five goals set above very attractive indeed.
Now a certain anonymous commenter on this Examiner’s comment space offered this argument against the provision of any such incentive, specifically to Ark Encounter or any similarly religious-themed project:
- Fact: Taxpayers provide the money to run state and local programs.
- Fact: Whether an up-front incentive of cash or a sales tax rebate, the project receiving economic development incentives is 1) getting an advantage over other enterprises that do not get the incentive and 2) depriving the state of some portion of tax revenue – which means other taxpayers make up the difference either in higher taxes or reduce state/local services.
And fact: the project is new, and therefore without it, the tax revenue to the State would be zero. (Indeed, the KTDFA study will determine how much money the State will net from the transaction during the first ten years of the project’s operation, as well as afterward.) As to “other enterprises that do not get the incentive,” Ark Encounter is one of several projects that have applied for the incentive thus far, and Ark Encounter’s application can in no way prejudice any future application by another developer, secular or otherwise. Finally, “other taxpayers” would not have any “difference” to “make up,” because, even during those first ten years, the State realizes new revenues that it would not otherwise realize. The incentive does not “deprive the State” of any “portion of tax revenue.”
The only remaining argument against granting the incentive to Ark Encounter is the one that any tax incentive for any given project is an endorsement of that project. In fact, the only “endorsement” that the Kentucky Tourism Development Act makes is of projects that show promise in drawing tourists from out-of-State to spend a lot of money. The Act says nothing about favoring (or disfavoring) one type of theme with respect to another. And such favor or disfavor would be difficult-to-impossible to justify.
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