WASHINGTON -- A congressional committee has brought the unpopular recreational boat-user fee one step closer to repeal by attaching an amendment to another bill to phase out the tax over five years.
The House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee moved last week to jettison the tax by adding the repeal amendment to a shipbuilding bill that would induce other nations to put a halt to shipyard subsidies.
The tax could affect 106,865 boats in Maryland, a state Department of Natural Resources spokesman said yesterday.
Boat-user fee repeal has overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, which approved a resolution last year 412-6 against the tax, which has been collected on a limited basis since November. The Senate also voted to repeal it.
The tax varies with the size of the vessel, ranging from $25 to $100 a year.
Attempts by the sponsor of the repeal, Michigan Republican Rep. Robert Davis, to lobby the White House on the issue failed when President Bush did not address boat user fees in his 1993 budget proposal.
Under the Davis amendment, being co-sponsored by Maryland Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the revenues lost by the repeal would be made up with a fee for a new data base service that would be used by shippers.
The boat-user fees brought in $7.3 million between Nov. 1 and Feb. 14. The Office of Management and Budget had projected revenues of $180 million a year when the tax was approved by Congress in 1990.
Most of the estimated 4.1 million recreational boaters in the United States subject to the tax have avoided paying the fee because the Coast Guard "let everyone know" it would only check vessels stopped for inspection or for questioning on other violations, said Sue Waldren, spokeswoman for the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.
The repeal was introduced with the new financing provisions to bolster the chances of its passage and avert stalling by the Bush administration, Ms. Waldren said.
"I support it, but not with a great deal of enthusiasm," Mrs. Bentley, a member of the committee, said. "You need funding. This whole protest from boaters is that the money is not going to the Coast Guard but to the Treasury. This is sort of silly because where do you think the Coast Guard gets its money?
The shipbuilding measure requires vessels repaired or built in foreign shipyards subsidized by their governments to repay the subsidy, to the sponsoring foreign government or to the United States. If the foreign shipyard or the vessel owner refuse to repay the subsidy, the vessel will be denied access to U.S. ports.
Even if the bill passes in Congress, President Bush may veto it.