While it isn’t a tax that is paid by a wide population, allowing the state to lower the tax rate on watercraft serves as a benefit to the state by increasing overall tax revenue and spurring investment in Kansas’ recreation industry.
Current state law assesses watercraft at 30 percent, which means the owner of a $20,000 boat in Reno County, with an average mill levy of 156.75, pays roughly $940 in annual property taxes. That same boat in Oklahoma, however, costs only $150 a year in taxes. Meanwhile, other neighboring states also have considerably lower rates for watercraft than Kansas.
The push for the change comes in the face of declining watercraft registration in Kansas. Part of that is surely economic, but many people probably are simply registering their boats out of state to take advantage of lower taxes — at an estimated cost of roughly $1 million in Kansas tax revenue.
A similar change was made to the tax code in 1992, which allowed recreational vehicles to be classified according to weight and age, at a substantial savings to taxpayers.
Some voters likely will look at the ballot initiative as a benefit only for boat owners, and no doubt boat owners stand to gain more than any other group from the change. But there are other benefits that voters should take into consideration — primarily the chance for increased investment in statewide recreational resources.
More boats registered in Kansas means more people using state parks and lakes, which means more money flowing into the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s budget to manage and maintain public facilities. In an era when fewer people are fishing, hunting and boating, any effort to change that trend is worthwhile.
At the very least, changing the constitution makes an adjustment to a tax that is out of line with other recreational vehicles and in line with the tax rates in neighboring states. That alone is enough reason to vote “yes” for a change to watercraft taxation.