The battle over the $50 Alaska head tax is continuing and the state's Superior Court in Anchorage will likely be the body to ultimately decide whether the initiative will get on the 2006 ballot. The North West Cruiseship Association (NWCA) filed a complaint in Alaska state court in January against the state's Division Of Election. The lawsuit challenges the validity of signatures gathered during a petition drive last year to secure a spot on the ballot, said John Hansen, president of the NWCA.

"The state has already certified that the group that wants the ballot initiative did achieve the number of signatures necessary, but we have some concerns with the validity of some of the signatures," Hansen said.

"Because there's no administrative procedure for us to go back and take a look, the only recourse for us is action in court."

Some 23,000 signatures were needed, representing 10 percent of Alaska's population.

The initiative, Hansen said, contains four new taxes as well as an entirely new "environmental regime, even though Alaska is at the forefront of environmental protection," he noted. His group, as well as the other plaintiffs in the suit are concerned that such a tax will discourage cruise ship passengers from visiting Alaska. "We've done surveys in the lower 48 states, when questions of taxes have come up, and the results show that there would be people who would simply not come to Alaska if they had to pay another tax," he said.

Joe Geldhof, a maritime attorney and one of the original petitioners for the initiative, said that the tax would be a much-needed revenue source. "This is needed to help accommodate cruise ship passengers who are arriving in a fairly compressed season," he said. "In order to build the infrastructure and become an accommodating destination, someone bas to pay, so we tried to structure within the limits of the Alaska constitution a way that there was ample revenue to build the infrastructure."

Hansen, meanwhile, said the NWCA has plans for a large-scale awareness campaign to be waged statewide should the initiative indeed make it on the August 2006 ballot. 'We're planning a lot of grassroots work. We want to make sure that people understand the implications of the tax."

"Nobody likes to pay taxes,'' Geldhof said."What we've got to do is strike a balance between a reasonable tax on what is for the most part an untaxed industry."