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Proposed boating measure causing confusion

WICHITA (AP) -- Supporters of a Kansas constitutional amendment that would give legislators authority to reduce property taxes on boats said the ballot wording is confusing.

Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison told the Wichita Eagle two words on the page-long question are confusing early voters. The question is asking voters to add the words "and watercraft" to the constitution regarding the levying of property taxes. Part of the problem Jennison is hearing from voters is the fact the two words are in italic type and hard to notice.

"It's the law," Jennison said. "It's a bad deal having to put the whole section of the constitution on the ballot, and it's a two-word change -- 'and watercraft.' "

The change would remove the classification of boats as "other" property and being taxed at 30 percent of their value multiplied by the county's property tax levy. Proponents said the change will encourage more Kansas residents to own and register their boats in the state by making tax rates comparable to surrounding states.

For example, Oklahoma charges $150 in property taxes for a boat worth $20,000. The same boat would generate a $750 tax bill in Kansas.

"People can sit down, you'd hope, and sort through it if they'll take the time," said Jennison, a former speaker of the Kansas House. "What I am really worried about, though, are the ones who come in on Election Day to vote with nowhere to turn. Most voters, if they don't understand a ballot question, they're going to vote no."

Dan Heskett, boating law administrator for the wildlife department, estimated in early October boat registrations are down approximately 20,000 boats in Kansas, costing the state as much as $1 million in lost property taxes. Most of those boats are registered in Oklahoma or Missouri.

"That's illegal, but who has the manpower to chase that down?" Jennison said.

Jennison said the change also would encourage Kansas residents to consider purchasing a boat, which also would increase sales tax collections and more revenue for the department through increased registrations.