The future of nature tourism along the Lower Mississippi River is at stake.
Hullo, my name is John Ruskey, owner and founder of Quapaw Canoe Company. Twenty years ago I came to Clarksdale, Mississippi with nothing more than a backpack and a dream. I built a thriving business through handcrafted wooden canoes and good community relations, helping others along the way - especially the younger generation. Today Quapaw is a mission driven business providing educational expeditions on the Lower Mississippi River with strong community outreach and a long history of volunteer youth apprenticeships serving youth from locally underserved and impoverished neighborhoods. Recently because of a shortcoming in the Mississippi Tax Code my business (and any others with similar dreams in outdoor recreation) might get swamped.
We have been quietly fighting a two-year battle with the Mississippi Department of Revenue, but now it feels like time to share the story. As the second year drags on I’m not sure if we’ll survive the fight. You can help us out by signing this petition! The root of the problem is that there is no place in the Mississippi State Tax Code for us. Federal Law says no taxes shall be charged on navigable waters (2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act). States that have a long history of river running (like Utah and Idaho), have dedicated whole sections of their tax law in accordance with this federal exemption. Because we don’t fit into the code as written Mississippi has assessed us for taxes on all of our income for the past 4 years, which now amounts to over $41,000 including interest & penalties. This includes income sources like schools, non-profits and government agencies (and other entities not normally considered taxable). This seems a bit unfair, but I’m not here to complain. I'm trying to figure out how to resolve this -- not only for us, but anyone else following in our footsteps in nature tourism, here and the rest of the Deep South: Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and etc. Whatever we do here is likely to be mimicked in other Southern States. This is a chance for Mississippi to become a model for others to emulate.
Long story short: we’re going to try and get this corrected in the tax code. How can you help? Sign this petition and send a clear message to Mississippi to honor the Mississippi River and the Federal Law! Here in Mississippi there is no precedent for a river guiding and outfitting business such as Quapaw Canoe Company. Not surprisingly, it has no chapter on river guides and outfitters. But it could easily amend its laws to accommodate this healthy and thriving business model. Paddling is the fastest growing sector in outdoor recreation. The bright side of all of this is that we have the opportunity to create a new definition in the State of Mississippi Tax Code. Mississippi gets its name from the big river. What better way to honor the river and the endless economic possibilities in nature tourism than with simple changes to the tax code? This would be the best case scenario as far as we’re concerned. We’d still be liable for sales and rentals, of course, (less than 1% of our activity), but we’d be able to provide our main service as river guides and educators in harmony with Federal law.
It’s a win-win situation. Nature tourism leads to healthier citizens, healthier communities and a healthier river. It improves quality of life. It attracts other businesses. It attracts new employees to existing businesses. Healthier rivers mean cleaner water. And clean water is the basis of all life. River guiding endeavors like Quapaw are an integral player in this cycle of health along the Lower Mississippi. But nature tourism in Mississippi doesn’t stand a chance if the tax conditions are not favorable when compared to other states that recognize the Federal law. Why do business in Mississippi when it could be elsewhere? Our clients wouldn’t care. They just want to get on the river. And the Mississippi River doesn’t care. The Mississippi river don’t say nothin’. It just keeps rolin’ along… through Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana… and of course Mississippi. Thank you for your attention to this! Many blessings! Humbly yours in service of the big river. John Ruskey, owner, Quapaw Canoe Company Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Note: for more background about this, and citations from the 2002 Maritime Act please respond to this email or go to www.island63.com and click on the article "Life and Taxes: Looking for a Home in the Mississippi Tax Code."
Governor Phil Bryant