Government vs. small business


Take my company, BB Riverboats. Last year, after being in business for over 40 years, the state of Kentucky wrote a letter saying that we were not calculating our sales tax correctly and they wanted payment for this miscalculation immediately. Kentucky has given commercial marine industries an exemption from state sales tax if the purchase was for an item that is permanently installed on the vessel, such as an engine. After receiving the letter, we called our accountant for assistance. We prevailed, but at great expense. So why did this happen? Well, with budget shortfalls, the state was looking for new sources of revenue.

This is only one of many government entities that regulates my business. I estimate that my business interacts regularly with 14 or more regulators at the federal, state and local levels. Here are just a few of the federal regulations promulgated over the years that we have had to deal with: vessel and facility security plans, TWIC cards for employees, user fees for vessel inspections, Vessel General Permits, random drug tests for employees, Non-Tank Vessel Response Plans and AIS equipment installation.

Several years ago, the Small Business Administration estimated that uncoordinated regulation costs small business approximately $10,500 per employee each year. This cost is way out of line for a small businesses such as mine.  How long can small businesses carry this burden and what’s the effect on productivity? We need to get this regulatory spiral under control or face a very unsettling future.

The marine industry likes to say, “we are all in the same boat.” This is true. We must come together to fight increasing regulation in order to preserve our businesses and our industry’s future.

And then there’s Sen. John McCain. Recently, he once again threatened to scrap the Jones Act, which helps the U.S. maritime industry compete worldwide and protects the jobs of U.S. mariners. If he had been successful, we all would have suffered and the future of our industry would have been put in jeopardy.


About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or

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