Herald-Leader Editorial

No more state aid for Ark Park; Don't endorse discriminatory hiring policy

August 27, 2014 

Kentucky has an unfortunate history of giving away money. So much so, that tax revenue given up in incentives and rebates now exceeds that collected.

An especially unfortunate example of this is the Ark Encounter, approved for tax incentives three years ago but never launched.

It's back now with a scaled-back version and has received preliminary approval for $18.25 million in tax incentives, or 25 percent of the total project cost, from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

That's in addition to the 75 percent break in property taxes over 30 years that the city of Williamstown has awarded the project, the $11 million interchange upgrade the state has agreed to at the KY-36 Williamstown exit off I-75, and the $200,000 the Grant County Industrial Development Authority gave to keep the project there, along with 100 acres of reduced-price land.

Please, this has got to stop, as it should when the Tourism Development Finance Authority meets to consider final approval.

There have always been serious questions about whether granting tax incentives to a religious theme park violates the principle of separation of church and state, as Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo has asserted.

But even that question is overshadowed by the recent news that the organization which gave rise to the project, Answers in Genesis, requires job applicants to profess that homosexuality is a sin, the Earth is 6,000 years old and the Bible is literally true.

The bottom line: Kentucky is willing to give up tax revenue to subsidize a project that will create few good jobs (218 of the 265 jobs projected will be part-time), that's constitutionally questionable and that's backed by an organization with discriminatory hiring practices.

The wiggle around this offered by backers of the project is that Ark Encounter is not Answers in Genesis but a distinct, for-profit entity.

A glance at the corporate structure makes that a little hard to swallow,

Ark Encounter is a wholly owned subsidiary of Crosswater Canyon which is a wholly controlled affiliate of Answers in Genesis, according to the tax incentive application.

Mike Zovath, the coordinator of Ark Encounter and a founder of Answers in Genesis, insists that all hiring at the new park will conform with state and federal laws.

But there's no getting around that profits from the Ark Encounter will flow to Answers in Genesis.

By extension, then, the tax incentives subsidizing the Ark project will enrich the discriminatory parent organization.

These incentives should not receive final approval.

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