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Thinking outside the box – what box?

Is it that in today’s culture it’s wrong to think inside the box? Could it be that in business or government, only thinking outside the box will do?

Help me out here – just what box are we talking about, anyway? How big is it? Are we talking a small box like the one a ring comes in, or a big box like that carried on a container ship? Are there different boxes for different thinkers? Do we each have an individual box or is it just one box for an all-group thing? I must admit I’m not at all clear on what things, if any, should even happen inside the box, but it seems obvious thinking is not one of them.

So, is the idea in Massachusetts of imposing a marine excise tax on boats docked in state waters during the summer boating season thinking inside or outside the box? It must be outside thinking because if it were inside, lawmakers would recognize that such a move will lose Bay State dealers, marinas and boat yards business and jobs.

Perhaps Massachusetts lawmakers could take a lesson from Ohio where similar tax thinking cost dealers millions of dollars in lost income. There, suddenly and without warning, the Department of Taxation sent a tax bill to out-of-state owners, primarily from nearby Michigan, whose vessels were in Ohio for more than 90 days. It was winter and many of these boats were in Ohio yards receiving millions of dollars in winter work. Lake Erie was frozen and the boats had to be in Ohio for more than 90 days. Customers threatened dealers with lawsuits for non-disclosure.  When the Michiganders were finally able to get their boats out of Ohio waters they ran big ads, especially in Detroit, warning fellow boaters to stay away from Ohio and never use an Ohio dealer for winter repairs and storage. Bottom line: the next winter, all the Michigan business dried up. The state lost all sales tax revenues from the repairs and materials. It lost the income tax from the workers on layoff and it paid out unemployment benefits! I don’t know if that’s inside or outside the box thinking – I do know all the state officials who thought that was a good idea belonged in a box!

How about Pennsylvania? In a state that repealed a helmet requirement for motor cycles, it’s being proposed that life jackets be required for everyone in boats 16 feet and under between Nov. 1 and April 30. Motor cycle crashes and head injury deaths in Pennsylvania have hit new record highs (197 for first nine months of 2010) while boating fatalities dropped 42 percent to seven in all of 2010, the lowest since 1968! I’m not sure whether the helmet repeal or the life jacket proposal are inside or outside the box, but the latter should be in a box clearly labeled “over-reaching.”

Not to keep singling out Ohio, but talk about being in the wrong box – how about a proposal in the Ohio Senate to hijack $7.5 million from the Ohio Waterways Safety Fund to pay for the mitigation of a toxic environmental algae situation in Grand Lake St. Marys. That should clearly be the responsibility of the Ohio EPA, not Ohio’s boating families. The WSF is solely funded by Ohio’s boaters (registration fees, fuel tax, etc.) and there’s no question it’s unjustifiable to tap it for environmental problems caused by the failure of EPA and the Department of Agriculture to properly manage a watershed.

Kudos to the five-member Ohio Waterways Safety Council (on which I served for 26 years) for sending a unanimous resolution to Department of Natural Resources Director David Mustine blasting the senate proposal and urging total rejection of the blatant attempt to pirate safety funds for environmental mitigation. Thinking this is the responsibility of Ohio’s boaters isn’t inside or outside the box – it’s not credible enough to be in any box! And, I can say that because I still pay for a registered boat in Ohio and, therefore, contribute to the WSF!


3 comments on “Thinking outside the box – what box?

  1. Art Harden

    The situations in Ohio are indicative of what is wrong with the whole political system. Elected officials have forgotten that they are there to serve the people and not for the people to serve them. The raid on the WSF is just another example of an elected official thinking he/she has the power to shift tax payer funds to personal projects at their discretion or whim. I applaud the stance of the Waterways Safety Council in the face of adversity from high profile politicians.

  2. Thom Dammrich

    Norm, we certainly don’t support any more life jacket mandates. But, it makes great sense to wear a life jacket when you are in cold waters. I suspect between Nov 1 and April 30 PA waters are pretty chilly. What hasn’t been published is how many drownings from a boat occur in PA between Nov 1 and April 30?

  3. Maddog

    More Ohioans need to denounce the taking of $4 million dollars from a marina project on Cesar Creek lake to spend it to spend the money on algae mitigation on Grand Lake St. Marys. Adding another 3 million dollars for additional dredging to a lake you can not swim, wade in or have contact with the water is unforgiveable. The dealers and boating interests in SW Ohio are livid over losing the marina project for a third time to a budget transfer.
    Losing the Ohio Waterway Safety Fund dollars to attempt a correction of a shallow lake systemic environmental problem, caused by watershed management and farm manure runoff, is a crime.
    Agricultural interests are winning over clean water and boaters are paying the price.

    If this money is appropriated for this toxic lake it could mean a loss of USCG or USFW of 1 to 4 million federal matching dollars to Ohio.

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