Don't balance budget on backs of boaters

March 09, 2012

Your editorial stated the justification for the Gov.Martin O'Malley's proposed increase in boat registration fees that are higher for larger boats is that larger boats require deeper dredging and that large boat owners can afford the higher taxes "considering such boats cost as much as $3 million to purchase" ("High and dry," Feb. 23). Your comments suggest naivete of the boating industry, as well as not being factual. This excessive fee significantly impacts the middle class who own the smaller boats.

Let me clarify, dredging is not for the 60-foot boats but for the sailboats and smaller motor boats. The 60-foot boat owner does not travel through potential shoaling waters, they travel the deeper waters. The real issue is with fixed-keel sailboats with 4-foot-plus drafts, that range 24 feet and more in length. A 45-foot motor boat's draft is just a few more inches than the outboard engine mounted on a 21-foot boat. Therefore, dredging of well-traveled water passages is more for the sailboats and smaller motor boats than the 60-foot boat.

Furthermore, the proposed boat registration tax has a bigger impact on the middle class boat owner than the 60-foot boat owners. Boats of the 30-to-50-foot' range do not cost anywhere near $3 million. In fact, most boats sold within the last three years are used, costing far less than $300,000. Middle class boaters are the primary buyers.

You further justified by stating Virginia charges much higher annual boat-related usury taxes. You are not providing a fair comparison. Virginia does not charge a 6 percent state sales tax when the boat is first purchased. Factor state sales tax and registration fees and taxes and you will see that Maryland boaters end up paying more than the Virginian boat owner (over the entire ownership life of the boat). Additionally, why would it matter what a neighboring state is taxing?

Let's call it like it is — it is not a fee, it is a tax established to boost general funds. It is not for the environment, nor boating law enforcement. It is a regressive tax to a market that has been devastated by the recession. Coupled with the proposal to apply a 6 percent sales tax to gasoline and the existing middle class boater will be facing hundreds and thousands of dollars in additional taxes each year. Just as the luxury tax hurt the boating industry in the 1990s, this regressive tax proposal will do the same. It will drive down boat ownership and ruin an industry that is still on its back.

I am a Democrat who is fed up with this "tax and spend" mentality that is so pervasive within the Maryland's elected officials. There is a $1 billion shortfall, because our elected officials are choosing to accept current spending habits. Just like every Maryland resident has done already, the state needs to adjust their spending habits to more affordable means. Trying to balance an unrealistic budget on the backs of middle class boaters is just plain stupid.

Bill, Ellicott City

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