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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 In a state that repealed a helmet requirement for motor cycles, it’s being proposed that life jackets be required for everyone in boats 16 feet and under between Nov. 1 and April 30.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!

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