'Rascal' Congressmen Approve Boat-use Tax


November 11, 1990|By Capt. Bob Spore

"Throw the rascals out" became a popular phrase in the pubs and offices, but mostly forgotten in the voting booths. However, had the truth been known about the budget plan/agreements, more of the incumbents might be looking for a job right now.

Boat/U.S., in a press release Wednesday, disclosed several wrinkles in the new budget that will cost the boat owner dearly.

Congress, in its infinite wisdom concerning getting re-elected, delayed the budget process sufficiently to keep all the fine print under wraps until after the election.

Congressmen may have suffered the wrath of the voters for being slow to produce the budget, but they were smart enough to keep the truth of the budget bill hidden until after the election.

The House Merchant Marine Committee long has opposed the boat "user fee" tax because the tax would be collected from any individual who owns a boat, not because the individual receives any federal service such as might be provided by the Coast Guard. Also, the boat owners already pay $125 million a year to the federal government in motorboat fuel taxes.

Unfortunately the House Merchant Marine Committee's approach was logical, and we all know that logic does not prevail when it comes to politics and government standard operating procedures.

During the budget battles, the "user fee" taxes were rammed down the committee's throat. The "user fee" tax will be assessed annually by boat length next year as follows: $25 for boats 16 to 19 feet; $35 for boats 20 to 26 feet; $50 for boats 27 to 39 feet and $100 for boats over 40 feet.

Failure to pay the tax could result in a fine of up to $5,000.

The legislation also specifically states that even after a boater has paid a user fee, "the collection of these charges or fees does not constitute an expressed or implied promise by the United States to perform any service or activity in a certain manner or to provide any service at a particular time or place."

Boat/U.S. president Richard Schwartz says, "Recreational boat owners are already paying their fair share and are willing to pay for any direct government service, but this is nothing less than a tax masquerading as a user fee."

The fate of the boating user fees was sealed in Congress during the weeks-long debate over the budget deficit and fueled by a desperate need on the part of the members of the House and Senate budget committees to raise revenues.

In October the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), along with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), caved in and produced legislation giving the Coast Guard a veritable blank check to raise revenues. In the end, the final decision was made without any discussion of the particular merits of the issue.

Schwartz says that Boat/U.S. will continue to fight the user fee because of the gross inequity of the plan. I have a better solution, let's disband the Coast Guard. Based on my experience I have yet to see any logical reason why the organization should continue. Then the increased funds would not be required.

In addition to the user fees, the new budget bill also adds a 10 percent luxury tax on boats costing more than $100,000, which may raise $20 million, and a nickel-per-gallon increase in the federal gas tax, which will cost boaters an additional $50 million a year.

Yes, the rascals slipped by us again this year, but let's face it, it is hard to catch a professional crook. They know the angles and when they make the laws a law-abiding citizen just ain't got a chance.

Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.

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