Taxes unfair to average boaters Aiming for rich hits upper middle


December 23, 1990|By PETER BAKER

If you have memories of Newport, Fremantle or San Diego, they probably are replete with scenes of the wine-and-cheese spectator fleets and multimillion-dollar campaigns that send sailboats crashing around a race course.

Perhaps someone in government caught the television reruns and assumed that boating was the exclusive pursuit of fat cats and therefore a promising target for taxation. Perhaps no one thought at all.

Surely there are those nautical fellows who wallow about i gold-platers that are suitable for episodes of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

But for the bulk of the boaters one encounters on Chesapeake Bay or Maryland's other waterways, there is little rich or famous about their lifestyles and little exotic about their craft.

For the most part, they are industrious, upper middle-income people who have managed to purchase a vessel in which they can race around the buoys, run to the fishing grounds or cruise the bay's backwaters.

In each case, it is a pleasurable pursuit. In each case, already there are taxes and fees to be paid. Sales tax. Registration or documentation fees. Fishing license fees. Slip fee taxes. Fuel taxes.

Now, however, Uncle Sam and Lady Maryland want to further tax that pursuit of happiness -- and provide little or no service in return.

Uncle Sam wants to raise at least $200 million from recreational boaters through new taxes and fees.

An annual user fee is expected to raise more than $130 million by collecting between $25 and $100 from each boat over 16 feet in length.

A luxury tax of 10 percent on the value of boats over $100,000 might raise more than $20 million.

A five-cent additional tax on marine fuels would raise another $50 million or more a year.

User fees have been opposed by the House Merchant Marine Committee for years because the assessment would be made simply because someone owns a boat. As it stands, the collection of the fee neither implies nor guarantees that the United States will provide further service to the recreational boater.

In Maryland, boaters could be taxed 2 percent annually on their boats as personal property. In Anne Arundel County, there already is a 10 percent tax on fees paid for seasonal slips, and a similar plan is under consideration in Kent County. There is talk as well of an additional state tax on marine fuels.

Unless one intends to purchase a boat with a price tag of more than $100,000, these new fees and taxes don't appear to be excessive.

The annual user fees are $25 for boats from 16 to 19 feet, $35 for boats 20 to 26 feet, $50 for boats 27 to 39 feet and $100 for boats 40 feet or longer.

The additional federal fuel tax figures to only $5 per 100 gallons.

But take a 31-foot sailboat or powerboat valued at $35,000 and figure a little further.

In Anne Arundel County, one might have to pay roughly $3,000 in annual slip fees, another $300 in slip-fee taxes, $750 more in personal property tax, the $50 user fee, plus registration or documentation fees and fuel taxes. Heck, go ahead, throw in the Bay fishing stamp. What's another $25 when you might already be spending more than $4,100 a year to kick back a little after work?

As they stand, these fees and taxes are unfair, and one has to wonder what might be ahead for those among us who have other pleasurable pursuits.

Will skiers be taxed each time they leave the lift? Will skiers with longer skis be taxed more heavily than those with shorter skis?

Will cyclists have to pay road taxes?

Will hikers be taxed by the mile or the footstep?

Will a luxury tax be applied to running shoes?

Tea? What about tea?

Well, one has to suppose that unfair tax was effectively opposed more than 200 years ago.

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