For Now, Ken Ham’s ‘Ark Park’ Has Lost Its Taxpayer Subsidy

Ken Ham, the Australian creationist who decided to build a replica of Noah’s Ark on the backs of Kentucky’s taxpayers, may have finally gone too far.

As I noted last week, Ham recently sold his for-profit Ark Encounter theme park in Grant County to a nonprofit entity that Ham owns called Crosswater Canyon for $10. Ham is believed to have taken the move to avoid paying a “safety tax” of 50 cents per ticket that the city of Williamstown planned to impose on the “Ark Park” and a few other local attractions. The tax would help pay for emergency services like fire, police and ambulances.

To city officials, the modest tax was eminently reasonable. If a medical emergency or a serious security issue erupts at the park and someone calls 911, it’s Williamstown police or EMTs who have to respond. The influx of visitors to the park has forced the city to increase these services, and the community needs to find a way to pay for it.

Creationist Ken Ham's 'Ark Park' has hit some rough seas -- and it's all Ham's fault.

But Ham didn’t want to pay – at least not as much as Williamstown officials sought. Reconfiguring Ark Encounter as a nonprofit was seen as a sneaky way to dodge the tax and possibly to demand exemption from all other forms of taxation, such as property taxes.

But the stunt may have backfired on Ham. A few days ago, Leigh Powers, an attorney with the Kentucky Arts, Heritage and Tourism Cabinet, wrote to Ham and told him the state is freezing $18 million in sales tax rebates that the Ark Park receives.

The rebate works like this: Kentucky charges a 6-percent sales tax on things like tickets, souvenirs and food at entertainment venues like Ark Encounter. The Ark Park collects the tax and forwards it to the state, but once a year, the state treasury returns all of the money collected in the form of sales tax to the Ark Park.

Americans United opposed Ark Encounter getting this form of subsidy (and that is what it is, despite Ham’s claims to the contrary). We pointed out that the park is clearly evangelistic in nature and even imposes religious requirements on its employees. But Ham filed a lawsuit, and a sympathetic federal judge ruled that the park could not be excluded from the tax-rebate plan.

But that was when Ark Encounter was touting itself as a for-profit enterprise. Nonprofits are a different matter. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Ark Encounter can’t just become a nonprofit and keep the tax incentives. It would have to reapply for them. And for now, it’s out of the plan.

“No further incentives may accrue from sales tax imposed on sales generated by or arising at the tourism development project as of the date of transfer of the property, June 28, 2017,” Powers wrote.

Officials at Ark Encounter insist this is all a misunderstanding that will be cleared up. Given that Ham has allies in Kentucky’s government, that may be so. But for now, at least, it appears that Ham’s greed and arrogance have finally caused him to trip up.