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10/25/2012

Amendment draws skeptics, supporters

WICHITA (AP) -- A constitutional amendment on the November ballot will let Kansas residents decide whether to reduce property taxes on boat owners, bringing the state's rates in line with others in the Midwest.

Amendment proponents said the current tax rate on boats is 30 percent of value multiplied by the county's tax mill levy. In some instances, that's eight times higher than adjoining states, prompting some Kansas boat owners to register their craft elsewhere. A $20,000 boat in Oklahoma would cost $150 in property taxes, while the same boat in Kansas would bring a $750 tax bill, proponents said.

The amendment is being pushed by the state's Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, as well as state bass fishing organizations and marine watercraft sales firms.

Boat registrations are down about 20 percent in Kansas during the last decade, to about 83,000 annually. The loss of 20,000 sales reduces the state's annual tax revenue by about $1 million a year, said Dan Hesket, the boating law administrator for the wildlife department.

"It's our belief that if this passes, we'd be bringing those registrations back into Kansas," said Don Leatherman, president of the Kansas Bass Federation Nation. "It's kind of counterproductive, as we see it. People are registering and housing boats out of state. It's kind of a deterrent to visiting Kansas, actually. If we can get the number down to a fair tax, we can fix that."

The proposed amendment standardizes boat taxation with other recreational vehicles. A similar amendment for recreational vehicles, which was passed in 1992, substantially cut taxes on those vehicles, which are currently valued according to vehicle weight and age, said Rep. Jeff King, R-Independence.

"We tax boats differently than almost any other kind of vehicle in Kansas," he said. "Much differently, and much higher than any other state."

Salina sportsman Bob Roberts is skeptical of the proposed amendment, saying someone who can afford a $50,000 boat can afford the property tax bill. He said one amendment supporter said he couldn't buy a $55,000 boat.

"I mean, does he realize how much sales tax he's going to pay on that boat at 7.5 percent? I think I'd worry more about that than about paying $1,000 a year in property taxes on a boat," Roberts said.

Roberts said tournament bass fishermen who want to save a "few bucks" are driving the amendment change. He said he's content with old boats that cost $100 or less in annual taxes.

"The fish don't care," he said.