Kentucky ark funding will not come from grants

January 30, 2011
  • Looy

After reading Allan Powell's "Kentucky Edutainment" op-ed piece, we found it remarkable that a professor (albeit retired) simply did not do his homework.

He appeared to write  knowledgeably about our future full-size Noah's Ark in northern Kentucky, but his starting point was wrong. We hope he was more careful when imparting knowledge to his students.

Powell evidently based his column on second-hand information (i.e., using other newspaper columnists, bloggers, etc.) rather than confirming with original sources. Many newspapers are falsely reporting that the Ark project will be a drain on Kentucky's revenues.

To be clear: Taxpayers will not subsidize either the building or operating of the Ark, despite what Powell claims. The tax incentives will not be a grant from state funds to help build the Ark Encounter, and no funds will be taken from the state budget or programs (e.g., social services, schools, etc.).

The only people to pay taxes related to operating the Ark will be its visitors. They will pay state sales tax at the attraction (e.g., on tickets, food, and merchandise), a portion of which the state will rebate to the Ark Encounter LLC based on meeting attendance-performance standards.

In the widespread incorrect reporting that claims the Ark Encounter will be a drain on Kentucky's budget, another thing has largely been omitted. The state's coffers will actually benefit tremendously when the Ark opens.

The part of the sales tax that the state will keep, plus payroll and property taxes collected from the several thousand people who will eventually be working in the region at both the Ark Encounter and at other new businesses, will be significant.

Also, sales tax collected by the many newly created local businesses through the Ark's ripple effect will also add revenue to the state coffers (e.g., hotels, gas stations, restaurants, etc.). Rather than being a drain on Kentucky, the Ark will benefit the state treasury by millions of dollars.

Regarding the "church vs. state" issue that Powell mentioned: The tax rebate goes back to the for-profit Ark Encounter LLC, not to our non-profit religious organization Answers in Genesis (a partner with the LLC in the Ark project).

Even then, recent cases in federal court regarding the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment have been permissive in matters involving the use of incentive programs to promote economic development, focusing more on the public purpose (jobs, economic development, etc.) rather than on the entity receiving the incentives.

The courts have consistently recognized the validity of tax incentives and other forms of financial support for economic development projects. A 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (which includes Kentucky) said that as long as such projects endorse "all qualified applicants," they endorse "none of them, and accordingly (do not) run afoul of the federal or state religion clauses."

Nor is the state of Kentucky establishing a specific religious view that would be in violation of the Establishment Clause. No one will be compelled to visit the Ark Encounter. The state's Tourism Development Act does not discriminate according to the subject matter of a theme park; thus there is no constitutional problem.

The nondiscriminatory aspect of the act was acknowledged by Bill Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky when he told USA Today (Dec. 5, 2010) that "courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a nondiscriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause, even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose."

Regarding how it would be possible for Noah to have built his Ark and then fit and care for all of the animals on board, we direct readers to detailed articles about such topics found on our website:

It seems that critics of our project and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) for supporting the Ark Encounter are more concerned about an attraction that features elements from the Bible than they are about the unemployed (10 percent unemployment in Kentucky) and a cash-strapped state that is desperately seeking additional revenue to balance its budget and provide needed services.

Attacks on the Ark Encounter only help reveal the nature of many Ark detractors, who are so set in their beliefs that they will not consider how this family-friendly and economically sound attraction will be a great asset to Kentucky during a difficult economic time. Such bias has caused some columnists to mislead readers about how the Ark Encounter will really be funded. Disagree with our viewpoint if you wish, Professor Powell, but do your homework first.

Mark Looy is chief communications officer of Answers in Genesis, a partner in Ark Encounter LLC.

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