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Boat tax amendment favored in early reporting

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, at 7:59 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, at 6:53 a.m.

A proposed state constitutional amendment question was too close to call Tuesday night.

With only 1,447 of the state’s 3,565 precincts reporting by 10 p.m., the amendment, which dealt with taxes assessed on boats, showed roughly 52 percent of Kansans favoring the question, while 48 percent opposed the measure.

Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, was hopeful the amendment would pass.

The state constitutional amendment proposed adding the words “and watercraft” to a section of the state constitution. The change would give the Kansas Legislature the power to cut property taxes on boats in a manner similar to the late 1990s property tax cut on recreational vehicles. The move would give lawmakers the ability to bring Kansas’ taxes, which were the highest boat property taxes in the Midwest, into line with neighboring states, Jennison and other supporters say. Currently, Kansas boats are classified in the “other” category of personal property and taxed at 30 percent of value multiplied by the county’s mill levy.

“It does look like it is winning,” Jennison said. “The counties right now that have got their votes in are predominately rural counties. Right now, I am comfortable it will win. And if it doesn’t, I’m going to be really disappointed.”

Here’s the cost difference, according to amendment proponents: A $20,000 boat in Oklahoma carries a $150 property tax bill; in Kansas, the same boat’s property tax bill would be $750. If the amendment is approved, lawmakers could, and probably would, lower the taxes on boats.

Supporters of the proposal say the tax-rate difference has led Kansas fishermen and boaters to buy boats out of state and register them out of state as well. That costs the state up to $1 million in annual sales and property tax revenues, state officials said this fall.

This is the third time state officials have tried to change the way boats are taxed.

“If it passes, it is a great opportunity for Kansas, especially in the areas we are trying to promote with tourism and quality of life. If it passes, it is a real indication people understand the great opportunity there is in Kansas with the outdoors. And if it doesn’t, we have more work to do in convincing Kansans what we have.”

Don Leatherman, president of the Kansas Bass Federation Nation, said Tuesday night he too remained hopeful.

“If it passes, we look to bring a number of boats into Kansas that are currently registered out of state,” Leatherman said.

It is estimated at least 10,000 boats that belong to Kansas residents are currently registered in other states.

“If you look at boats, they are currently registered at three times as high as vehicles,” he said. “That’s what we are fighting. It is an outrageously high and unfair tax.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com

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