The leader of the religious ministry constructing a massive replica of Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky says he won’t ask Governor-elect Matt Bevin to approve tax incentives for the project.
Instead, Answers in Genesis chief executive Ken Ham said he wants a federal court to rule on whether state tourism officials were right to decline more than $18 million in tax incentives for the project.
“We would like to see a ruling from the judge because there’s been a lot of talk out there from some of the secular groups and accusations,” Ham said on Thursday.
“I think it’s really good that it’s in the courts and let a judge make the decision on the basis of the law.”
AIG is constructing the 510-foot-long ark and an accompanying theme park; the ministry is also behind the Creation Museum in Petersburg.
Ham said he believes a ruling on his lawsuit against the state will likely take place before Bevin’s inauguration on Dec. 8.
Last year, the state tourism board gave preliminary approval to the project for more than $18 million in incentives in the form of sales tax rebates. But the state ultimately declined to give the incentives package, saying that the public dollars can’t go toward a project that hires workers based on their religious backgrounds.
In its lawsuit, Answers in Genesis argues that the state discriminated against the ministry under the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
A spokeswoman for Bevin said the incentives issue will be “thoroughly vetted and discussed” as the governor-elect continues to put his administration together.
“If the commonwealth can legally provide financial incentives to the project, Governor-elect Bevin would certainly support doing so,” Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said in a statement.
“Governor-elect Bevin’s administration will not discriminate among or against any worthy economic development projects.”
State Sen. Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said he’s going to “strongly encourage” Bevin to restore the tax incentives to the ark project in Williamstown, which is in his district.
“There was a promise made and that promise should be kept,” Thayer said. “Gov. Beshear decided to renege on that promise and it’s my hope that soon-to-be Gov. Bevin will encourage the folks on the board that decides these tax credits to go forward with it.”
The Ark Encounter is scheduled to open on July 7, 2016.