User Fees Spark Revolt On The Water


August 11, 1991|By Capt. Bob Spore

"I refuse to buy it," the boater said. "I'll sell my g------ boat before I'll buy their sticker."

"Isn't that a bit radical?" I asked.

"They're all g------ crooks. I won't give them another cent," theboater said as he crushed out a cigarette and got into his car.

The boater had come out of a marine supply store on Mountain Road. Hislicense plate holder said "I'd Rather Be Boating." I had asked him what he thought of the new federal user fee and he launched into a tirade.

Few boaters I have talked to have simply paid the fee. Most have held on, waiting for the last minute. Now that the federal government has given boaters a 30-day grace period, few will purchase the stickers until the end of August.

The majority of the boaters I talked to do not plan to purchase the stickers at all this year. They they'll wait until next year and hope someone will repeal this mess.

As hard as it may be to believe, I am getting more questions now on the user fee than I did before the deadline.

In case you are wondering what I am raving about, Congress passed a series of laws last fall about the time the government said it was about to run out of our money. Federal and state workers were worried about being laid off, and times were not good. Matter of fact, they still aren't.

One of the laws Congress enacted was a user fee that taxed recreational boaters based on the size of their boats. Many questions about the law still have not been answered.

I did find a friendly woman who had many of the answers. She is one of the operators at the boating information hot line, (800) 368-5647. But you must have patience.

I made six or seven calls before I even got a recording giving out general information.

After a short intermission, I heard a second recordingwith new information and then a third recording. Finally, I heard a real human voice.

She promptly answered all my questions that dealt with commercial vessels and promised to send me a copy of the federal register with all of the details. Maybe by next week we will be able to answer everyone's questions.

I mentioned last week that if your vessel is documented commercially, you are exempt from this fee. The same is true if you are registered as commercial with the state.

The fee is for recreational, not commercial vessels. Its term runsfrom Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, which means that even though you are paying full value for the user fee stickers, they expire Dec. 31.

The federal government has hired a contractor to sell these stickers to boaters because the government is not efficient enough. Well, the contractors have screwed up also.

I received a user fee press kit this week saying that last week's kit contained a mistake and its creators wanted to make certain that my readers "receive the most accurate information available on this very important program."

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police do not plan to enforce the user fee; however, most of the senior decision- and policy-makers were on leave the day I contacted them.

If the Coast Guard is going to enforce the user fee, you could go years before you are ever checked. Some boaters have told me that they do not plan on purchasing the user fee sticker because they say they never see the Coast Guard.

The House Merchant Marine Committee has unanimously supported legislation that will repeal this tax. But politicians and crooks lie, so I don'tknow what to tell you.

Maybe if we all got smart and voted out all the old crooks and voted in some new crooks, they might get the idea that we are tired of having little or no support. Wasn't that called "taxation without representation?"

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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