Jim Waters

Jim Waters/Columnist

Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration supported tax incentives for Noah’s Ark theme park slated to open in 2016 in Williamstown when the governor was running for reelection.

In fact, Beshear so coveted the political points he could score from supporting such a project in the Bible Belt that his administration unequivocally endorsed incentives for it without so much as looking at a feasibility study provided by the park itself – an omission I roundly criticized in this column.

However, a letter from Bob Stewart, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet now informs Ark Encounter that the project no longer is eligible for a program that would allow its creators to keep 25 percent of the sales tax collected during its first decade – about $18 million – because it has changed “from a tourism attraction to a ministry.”

Stewarts lectures that while Ark Encounter has every right to change its emphasis, “state tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion.”

Ark Encounter representatives promise a legal holy war. What they really should be fighting is what they are experiencing: the downside of government policy that involves know-it-alls picking economic winners and losers.

On the surface, the project’s representatives are right in saying they should not be treated differently than any other group pursuing incentives.

The larger question is: Why even seek them, knowing full well that when government gets involved – especially where financial incentives are concerned – it will want to inject its poison of political correctness to the extent of demanding that an Ark park be willing to hire people that don’t even believe in the flood for which the original was built or in the Bible that tells that story?

It’s indicative of a dependency upon government that’s way too prevalent.

The park wants its piece of the pie belonging to taxpayers – who already are on the hook for an $11 million improvement to an interchange off Interstate 75 because of expected traffic increases created by visitors to the site. Yet can it reasonably expect that government won’t stick its oversized nose into its hiring practices?

Such developments offer yet another example of how the state has amassed its power to plan and control the economy – including tourism projects – by building its development policies around government incentives rather than market-driven forces determining which ventures succeed in Kentucky.

There’s no reason to believe that there won’t be quite a market for the Ark park, which, according to its website will offer a “full-scale, all-wood ark” of biblical proportions that “should become the largest timber-frame structure in the USA.”

Curious biblicists will line up for boarding passes, which Ark Encounters appropriately want to be sold by people who also are believers.

When you seek government involvement in any way – including through tax breaks – the door opens to uncertain – and perhaps what many might consider undesirable – practices.

What if a group of zealous Muslims applied for a similar rebate for a park with the world’s largest monument to Mohammed? How many of those same people who defend the Ark park receiving tax rebates granted by the state because they believe in its message also would back a Muslim project benefitting from the same kind of break?

When groups – no matter their religious convictions or political views – seek government handouts in any form, they empower that same government to say “yes” to one and “no” to the other – and it may not be the one they expect.

Instead, why not just grant the same rebate to all companies creating tourism projects in the commonwealth? They could use the revenue to expand their ventures, put them on stable financial footing, believe what they want and hire whomever they please.

A rising tide, after all, lifts all boats.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.

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