Recreational tax boundary is restrictive

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The concept of setting aside “recreation zones” for tax benefits makes a lot of sense for Maine’s recreation-based businesses.

However, setting boundaries for recreation zones by whim is bad law.

Last week, legislation crafted to improve the economic climate for outdoor recreation in the most rural parts of Maine through tax incentives and other breaks through Jan. 1, 2019 was passed. Its sponsor, Rep. Stanley Moody, D-Manchester, described his idea as focused on boosting the “small, struggling businesses in natural-resources-based tourism.”

That is, unless those small struggling businesses rest somewhere south or west of the Androscoggin River.

The legislation applies only to tourism-based businesses east and north of the Androscoggin, with the river named as the boundary marker in the language of the bill.

Why that boundary? Why cut off a huge chunk of Maine where recreational businesses could benefit from sales tax exemptions, state income tax credits, and tax increment financing benefits just as much as businesses along the Atlantic coast or the Canadian border?

It doesn’t make sense.

Maine’s tourism industry doesn’t struggle just east and north of the Androscoggin. It’s a mighty struggle west and south, too, and – if taxpayers are to prop up this industry – recreational business owners in the most western and southwestern part of this state are entitled to the same breaks and incentives their competitors in other areas of Maine will receive.

Anything less sets up unfair competition among in-state recreational business owners. We’ve got enough competition from other states and Canada to draw vacationers across our borders, we don’t need to make it tougher for an arbitrarily chosen geographically select group of in-state businesses.

The bill was passed as emergency legislation, which means lawmakers are in a hurry to develop a strategy and get help to qualified businesses. When the departments of agriculture, conservation, inland fisheries and wildlife, environmental protection and marine resources get together to hammer out the details in the coming year, the very first thing they must do is remove the arbitrary boundary along the Androscoggin. We must pour all of Maine’s recreational business owners in the same pool of opportunity in this vacationland.

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