Maybe The Press shouldn’t have done that story about the local “Boom in Boating,” since state government these days is looking to tax anything that moves.

The strong rise in boat sales in South Jersey has been a rare bit of economic good news during the pandemic. The region is a boating paradise, full of waterways, ocean and bay access, marinas, boating stores and boat builders.

COVID-19 restrictions have upended vacation plans and thwarted spending on entertainment and dining. They also have boosted recreation outdoors, where the risk of coronavirus contagion is minimal.

Some of that money people were forced to save instead of spend has been going to boating, which has the added appeal of built-in social distancing out on the open waters.

Local boat dealers say they are struggling to keep up with demand, their inventory of new boats reduced by four-fifths and used boats on hand down more than 90%. Nationwide new boat sales are up 19% from a year ago.

This rising tide is lifting many. Families get great recreation they can enjoy together, 28,000 people get jobs in the state’s boating industry, and New Jersey’s economy gets $6.6 billion in economic impact.

But instead of encouraging this, or even just welcoming it, Gov. Phil Murphy has proposed doubling the sales tax on boat purchases and eliminating the limit on how much tax a boat buyer could pay. Boat buyers would simply go next door instead of paying.

Tax-happy New Jersey already had the highest taxes on boat purchases in the Mid-Atlantic. Delaware charges no sales tax and Connecticut’s tax is less than half of the 7% that Murphy wants to charge. New Jersey’s current cap on boat taxes of $20,000 per sale already is higher than Maryland ($15,000), Florida ($18,000) and even New York ($18,975).

The current level of boat taxing was the result of a bipartisan reform in 2015. After the severe recession of 2009, South Jersey lost many major boat builders due to state government’s uncompetitive tax burden on boat buyers. Viking Yacht Co. in New Gretna said the sales tax limit helped it finally return to growth.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, noted that the boating industry has been a rare economic bright spot during the pandemic and questioned, “Why try to hurt that?”

Perhaps the worst thing is that Murphy only expects the state to get $7 million more a year from the tax increase, a meaningless amount in his record $40 billion budget balanced with massive borrowing. His proposal would result in much more lost in boating jobs, business and even state revenues.

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