The two-year battle to repeal the federal boat user fee has ended.
President Bush signed a bill yesterday that will phase out the unpopular tax.
Effective immediately, all boats 21 feet and under are exempt from the user fee. Boats 37 feet and under will become exempt Oct. 1, 1993. All remaining boats will become exempt Oct. 1, 1994.
According to the Boat Owners Association of The United States, that means 70 percent of the 4.1 million recreational boaters affected by the user fee are now exempt and more than 95 percent of the affected boaters will be exempt next year.
The user fee was slipped into the 1990 Budget Act by a handful of congressmen as a means to raise revenue to reduce the federal deficit. When the legislation was approved Nov. 5, 1990, few congressmen realized the user fee was in fact a tax on boaters. Although the money is collected by the U.S. Coast Guard, none of it goes to the Coast Guard or toward improved services for boaters. Instead, the money goes into the general fund.
"I think it's about time," said David Smith of Dusky Amateur live baits of Hollywood, Fla. "They should've never had it anyway. It's one thing if you're paying taxes, you at least get something out of it. Boaters weren't getting anything out of this."
BOAT/U.S., which has a membership of 435,000 recreational boaters, led the fight against the user fee from the beginning. Several repeal bills soon were introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate, but the legislation often was held up in committee by politicians who didn't want to tamper with a source of revenue or because it was attached to controversial bills.
"I can't overemphasize the contributions made by boaters at the grass-roots level," said Mike Sciulla, vice president of BOAT/U.S. "They kept the heat on the Congress, they kept the heat on the president and it paid off in spades.
"The money was not the issue. It was the principle of the thing . . . ."