FRANKFORT — State Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge, expressed disappointment Thursday over House Speaker Greg Stumbo's comments this week that the state should not provide tax incentives for a Noah's Ark theme park in Grant County.
Linder, who represents Grant, Gallatin and Owen counties in the House's 61st District, said in a news release that Stumbo's comments "appear to tell those who want to bring economic opportunity to the commonwealth that Kentucky is closed for business, which only serves to further drive other businesses out of our state."
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said this week that Grant County needed more economic development but that the use of tax incentives for the park was unconstitutional because it violated the U.S. Constitution's mandate for separation of church and state.
He predicted that the incentives would be challenged in court and that the state would lose.
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The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority has given its preliminary approval for as much as $18.25 million in tax incentives for the $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park. It is to consider final approval after a feasibility study is conducted.
The park is to open in two years and feature a wooden ark 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 55 feet high. It is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which runs the Creation Museum in Boone County. The museum follows a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, contrary to science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Linder said the proposed Ark Encounter theme park was a tourism-based economic development project that qualifies to receive tax incentives from the state. He said millions of dollars have been allotted for highway improvements in the area of the proposed theme park property.
"While Kentucky continues to lose jobs to places like Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas, Speaker Stumbo chooses to attack an economic development project in my community by encouraging lawsuits on tax incentives," Linder said.
He said Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, and others support the project "because they understand the huge economic benefits it can bring to the commonwealth, yet Speaker Stumbo would rather stir up issues instead of considering the opportunities this project will provide to Kentucky families."
Linder called Stumbo's comments about the park and religion disingenuous.
"While the speaker has an issue with a religious theme park receiving tax incentives to provide jobs, he apparently has no problem occupying a chair in the House chambers that has, in large letters, the motto 'In God We Trust' behind it," he said.