Kansas voters should vote “yes” on Nov. 6 for the constitutional amendment relating to watercraft taxation, which will allow the Legislature to fix a serious long-standing problem that has been bad for sportsmen, boat dealers, recreational tourism and state revenue.
The lengthy ballot question risks looking like a perk for boat owners, which is probably why a similar constitutional amendment lost by fewer than 12,000 votes in the 2000 general election.
But it actually addresses a glaring oversight in the state constitution.
Currently, most boats are classified in the “other” subclass of personal property, and valued at market value and assessed at 30 percent, according to the Kansas Department of Revenue.
That has meant a property-tax bill for a $20,000 boat of $750 in Kansas, compared with $150 in Oklahoma. Nebraska and Colorado reportedly only charge personal property tax on boats used commercially. Boat taxes are lower in Missouri, too.
The result is that many boats owned by Kansans are registered and housed elsewhere. Meanwhile, Kansas is losing $1 million a year in tax revenue. The status quo is also bad for Kansas boat dealers and state lakes and parks. Over the past decade, boat registrations in Kansas have declined about 20 percent, to about 83,000 annually.
“One man explained to me that the tax on his small boat was higher than his motor home that he used to pull the boat to the parks,” state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, told a Senate committee in written testimony early this year.
The constitutional amendment, which needed two-thirds approval by the Legislature, passed the Kansas Senate unanimously in February and the House on a 121-2 vote in March 2011.
Approval of the ballot question would enable the 2013 Legislature to bring taxation of boats in line with that of other recreational vehicles. “The new method may be some form of fee structure imposed in lieu of property tax, or the Legislature may exempt watercraft altogether,” Roger Hamm, deputy director of the department, wrote to county officials in June.
Kansas voters should say “yes” to this commonsense change in how the state taxes watercraft. Doing so would allow the Legislature to start taxing boats fairly, and encourage more people to buy, register and use their boats in Kansas.