A Myth About Ark Encounter Funds That Won’t Die

by Ken Ham and Mark Looy on April 22, 2014

We have made it clear...that no money is coming out of the state budget to build the Ark.
It’s wonderful when major media outlets like NBC-TV, as it did on Sunday, cover Answers in Genesis and its outreaches and do so on a regular basis. But it is often a mixed blessing, for many media outlets continue to spread false information about AiG. In recent times, the misinformation has largely centered on AiG’s effort to build a full-size Ark in northern Kentucky and in particular the nature of its funding.

On Sunday, NBC’s well-known news program Meet the Press—the longest-running program in American television history (since 1947)—featured an interview with a person who totally misrepresented the Ark and how it is being funded. The man, who lives in the area where the Ark will be constructed, falsely stated that money will be taken away from the state budget—and thus, he said, taken away from Kentucky schools as well as the state’s transportation budget to fix roads—to build the Ark. Now, it’s probable that the man has not heard the true nature of the funding because he has believed the many secular media reports that have been, intentionally or not, misinforming people about the Ark’s funding. Here’s what the resident claimed; and then we will rebut his charge:

“It's kind of a sucker punch to know that my tax dollars are, like, helping to prop this up. I pass over a lot potholes. I know a lot of schools that could probably use some bonuses for teachers. Instead, we're going to build the Mickey Mouse version of a Bible story. And that is a little depressing to me.”

You can watch the three-minute Meet the Press segment and hear the false comment about the state incentive on the NBC News website.

This man’s tax dollars are not being used to build the Ark, and his dollars will not support the Ark when the themed attraction opens. To help explain the nature of the incentive, here is the email that our publicist sent yesterday to the NBC reporter and producer of the Meet the Press segment in an attempt to correct the claim that Kentucky state dollars will help build the Ark Encounter. (By the way, why didn’t the Meet the Press producers interview us about the nature of the incentives when they toured our Ark design studio, and instead uncritically accepted the opinion of a man who clearly did know what the tax incentive is and totally misrepresented the project and its funding?)

Thank you for the Ark Encounter coverage on "Meet the Press." Contrary to the man quoted in the piece, we, as the publicist for the Ark project of Answers in Genesis, wish to point out that no state funds will be used to build the Ark Encounter. Thus no money will be taken away from funds to fix roads, as the man contended. The tax incentive will not be a grant from the state treasury to help build the Ark Encounter; no money will come out of the state budget and away from state services and programs (e.g., roads/potholes fixed, social services provided, schools funded, etc.).

What are the incentives? Future Ark visitors will pay sales tax at the attraction (e.g., on tickets, food, and merchandise), and at the end of each year of operation,  the state will rebate a portion of the sales tax to the Ark Encounter if the Ark meets attendance-performance standards and tourism dollars flow into the state. Ultimately, the state’s coffers will benefit tremendously when the Ark opens in Kentucky, as opposed to another state that tried to woo the Ark project.

The part of the sales tax that the state will keep, plus payroll and property taxes collected from the estimated 10,000-plus people who will eventually be working in the region at both the Ark Encounter and at other new businesses that will be created, will be significant to the state. Also, the 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., the sales taxes collected by hotels, gas stations, restaurants, etc. in the region). There is a huge net gain to Kentucky for having the Ark within its borders, and state services will see even more funds, not fewer.

Thank you.

We have made it clear time and time again to the media over the past four years that no money is coming out of the state budget to build the Ark. In fact, in late February we held a live webcast to give supporters an update on the Ark project and to clear up the ongoing misinformation that the secular media continues to pour out. Listen to the webcast starting at 12:15 to hear our clear explanation, once again, about the nature of the incentive.

Now, even the New York Times continues to perpetuate the lie about the Ark’s funding. We have had to contact the Times on at least two occasions to correct its misreporting. For example, a nationally syndicated Times’ columnist falsely stated that that the Ark will be built “with $43 million in state tax incentives.”1 Again, let us say for the umpteenth time: no state monies will be used to construct the Ark. A previous Times’ editorial against the Ark Encounter made the same false claim.2 The letters to the Times that we submitted to its editor to correct these errors were never printed. In those letters we clearly stated that taxpayers “will not see their money used to build or operate the Ark Encounter. No money will be taken out of the state’s budget to fund the Ark.”3 Even after contacting the paper’s ombudsman to inquire why the paper would not make a correction, the Times did not print a retraction.

Separation of Church and State?

What about the possibility of a so-called “separation of church and state” issue being a problem in the Ark’s construction and the state incentive, as NBC brought up as a concern on Sunday? Putting aside the fact that the phrase does not appear in the U.S. Constitution but comes from Thomas Jefferson (many years after the First Amendment was adopted), we note that Kentucky’s “Tourism Development Act” is non-discriminatory. Any tourist attraction can apply for incentives in Kentucky regardless of its message. For example, if a Jewish group wanted to build an Old Testament-themed attraction, it can apply for the rebate of sales tax.

Our attorney also points out that the “state incentive program itself is neutral as to religion. Regardless of the religious character of the project, one cannot say that the primary purpose of the state’s actions here is to advance religion. It is an economic motivation. The fact remains that the Ark project will generate jobs and spur economic development,” and the Ark will help accomplish what the tourism act was designed to do.

We point out, too, that an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky told USA Today on December 5, 2010, that with the Ark Encounter, the Tourism Development Act was non-discriminatory, stating that “courts have found that giving such tax exemptions on a non-discriminatory basis does not violate the establishment clause [of the First Amendment], even when the tax exemption goes to a religious purpose.” (It’s one of the few times the ACLU and AiG have agreed on something.) AiG would further argue that it would be illegal and unethical for the state to engage in some kind of viewpoint or religious discrimination simply because the content of the Ark Encounter happens to focus on biblical history.

In addition, AiG’s Ark project “exceeds the criteria required by law in Kentucky under the Tourism Development Act,” stated one of our attorneys. He added, “The granting of sales tax rebates is for a legitimate public purpose: the promotion of economic development in Kentucky. The project will provide significant jobs, as well as income and sales tax revenue to the state which would otherwise not be available.”

The lawyer continued, “Recent cases in federal court involving the establishment clause of the First Amendment have been generally 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 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.”

Our attorney also noted that the state of Kentucky in no way is establishing a specific religious view for its citizens to follow and that the state is not compelling anyone to visit the Ark Encounter. An atheist lawyer (recently deceased) and vocal AiG opponent admitted to MSNBC on December 29, 2010, “From what I have seen so far, as long as the tax incentives are available evenly and equally to all takers, whether it’s an atheist museum or a pornography park, I have no cause to gripe.” It is one of the few times we have agreed with this atheist lawyer.

AiG hopes that NBC’s Meet the Press, the New York Times, and other major media (e.g., the Huffington Post) will retract their completely false reports on how the Ark’s construction is being funded and let people know that that taxpayer money is not building it. For an update on the Ark Encounter, watch this YouTube video:

Footnotes

  1. Charles Blow, “Dinosaurs and Denial,” New York Times, December 8, 2012.
  2. May 31, 2011, New York Times, p. A22.
  3. Our letter to the Times (that was never published) stated that “if the Ark meets attendance goals and sees tourism dollars flow into the state, it will receive rebates on sales taxes paid by its visitors. At the end of an operating year, the money going back to the attraction will be from those who chose to visit; no unwilling taxpayer will subsidize the Ark. Thus, there is no establishment of religion. Neither is anyone being forced to visit and hear about the history of the Earth according to the Bible, including its account of the Ark.”

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.