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ABC goal is to get loan money flowing again

Industry will bring its stimulus pitch to Capitol Hill during abbreviated May 5-6 Boating Congress

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Marine businesses are facing a number of legislative challenges at the federal level, but as industry leaders head for the American Boating Congress in Washington, D.C., one will take precedence - the economy.

"Primarily, it is this issue of financing," says Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine. "Without the free flow of money, nothing happens."

Industry leaders say the lack of adequate floorplan financing creates cash-flow problems. Meanwhile, boats sit in dealer showrooms because consumers can't get financing to buy them.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association is doing what it can to make legislators understand that marine businesses need the same stimulus help Congress is giving to other industries, says NMMA president Thom Dammrich.

"The marine industry needs help in floorplan and consumer financing," he says. "It's not just the auto industry that needs help."

Face to face

However, Dammrich says there's only so much the NMMA can do as an organization. The association relies on its members to drive the point home with their own congressional representatives.

"It's more effective to have constituents meet them face to face," says Dammrich.

"The fundamental goal of the conference is to get into these offices ... and get the story out there," says NMMA legislative director Matthew Dunn.

ABC will be held May 5-6 at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. This year's conference - reduced from three days to two - will have a condensed schedule with a strong focus on economic recovery. The first day will consist primarily of various NMMA board meetings. The second includes a morning of speakers and informational sessions, a brief break for lunch and then individual visits to Capitol Hill throughout the afternoon.

Unlike past conferences, this year's agenda does not include a gala dinner or private tours of the D.C. area.

"Given the economy and the pressures our member companies are under, we decided to hold an abbreviated conference," says Dunn.

He says the shorter schedule will reduce expenses for those attending, as well as lowering the overall cost of the conference.

"We also feel an abbreviated version will be richer in its content, with a more focused agenda," he says. "We expect it will be a very strong conference."

Dunn says the goals, in addition to restoring the flow of loan money, include job creation and restoring consumer confidence. Some of the economic policies important to the boating industry include preserving existing tax provisions - such as reauthorization of the research-and-development tax credit and tax deductions for boats that qualify as a second home - and making sure new taxes are not imposed on businesses.

Dammrich says the NMMA continues to lobby for passage of the Business Activity Tax Simplification Act to resolve the problem of states levying taxes on businesses that don't have a physical presence in that state, but that sell products to consumers there or have a dealer base there.

"Cash-strapped states will look more and more to taxing out-of-state businesses," Dammrich warns.

Extended carryback?

Dave Marlow, Brunswick Corp.'s director of product integrity/government affairs, adds one other tax-related issue to the list: extension of the net operating loss carryback. Currently, a company can use its net operating loss to offset taxes owed on profits made in the two previous years. The NMMA and other industry organizations have been lobbying to temporarily extend the carryback period to five years.

However, the NOL provision the NMMA lobbied for was scaled back from the $789 billion stimulus package signed into law in mid-February. The revised provision applies only to companies with annual gross receipts of less than $15 million. Also, if a company claims the extended carryback period, it is required to take a "haircut" and reduce by 10 percent the amount of net operating losses carried back, according to the NMMA.

"NMMA would like to see essentially all companies be eligible for the five-year NOL carryback extension, without the haircut," says Dunn.

Other issues of the day include the Employee Free Choice Act, higher ethanol blends in gasoline, reauthorization of Wallop-Breaux, and the Boating Infrastructure Grant program.

"With all the deficits we're running, everything is at risk," says Dammrich.

He says it's more important now than ever for the boating industry to have its collective voice heard on Capitol Hill.

"There are more challenges, more threats facing the industry out of Washington than ever," he says. "It just keeps growing. We have a Congress that's less inclined to be helpful, so it's more important than ever that our members communicate with their members of Congress and develop relationships with their members of Congress."

Regulator president Maxwell is planning to do just that. She says she's looking forward to meeting North Carolina's new senator, Democrat Kay Hagan, and inviting her to join the Boating Caucus.

"We need people in Congress to understand what we in the boating industry do and the problems we face," she says.

Brunswick's Marlow echoed those sentiments: "We consider the Boating Congress one of the more important events for our industry. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that our legislators are made aware of the issues we face day to day."

And, says NMMA's Dunn, "It's important for businesses to present a united front."

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.

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