FRANKFORT — A controversial Bible-themed amusement park received approval Thursday for up to $43 million in state tax incentives over a 10-year period.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority, which oversees tax credits for tourism and film-related projects, unanimously approved the tax credit for the Ark Encounter project, which is scheduled to break ground in August outside Williamstown in Grant County.
In addition to the tax rebate, the state may spend an estimated $11 million to improve an interchange off I-75 near the 800-acre site in Northern Kentucky.
The park has been criticized by late-night talk show hosts and those who say the state should not give tax breaks to a business that espouses a particular religious view. But Gov. Steve Beshear has defended the incentives, saying the state cannot deny the application on religious grounds. The park alone could generate as many as 600 to 700 new jobs, according to a consultant's report. That number doesn't include jobs created from construction or from new hotels or restaurants.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, based in Washington D.C., blasted the board's decision Thursday.
"The state of Kentucky should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Let these folks build their fundamentalist Disneyland without government help."
Lynn said his group will sue if they find the tax rebate violates the Constitution's guarantee of the separation of church and state.
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