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Lakefest

Boat tax increase on table, would yield little for General Fund

Recreational boaters could wind up paying higher fees by this time next year, but those fees won’t raise nearly enough to fill Alabama’s budget hole.

In The Anniston Star’s ongoing forum on budget solutions, one online commenter suggested the state double its yearly fee to operate a boat on public waters.

“Currently Alabama boaters pay $18 for a vessel up to 16 feet,” wrote an online commenter identified only as Steve. “If you double the rate do you think it would keep people from using their jet skis?”

As it turns out, the boating fee is a well lawmakers have drawn from before. In 2007, lawmakers hiked that tax, bumping fees for the smallest boats from $11 to $18 and nearly doubling fees for the largest boats. That increased revenues from $3.8 million to $6 million per year.

Doubling the fee again would raise another $6 million. That would leave more to be done to fill the $200-million-plus state budget gap projected for 2016.

Another boating fee increase bill was rejected by lawmakers earlier this year, though it received little notice. Boat manufacturers pushed for a law that would require some large boats to have a title, in the same way a car does, at a $25 cost.

Boatbuilders say a title law would protect owners from boat theft.

“Alabama has become a dumping ground for stolen boats,” said Graham Champion, a lobbyist for the National Marine Manufacturing Association. “It’s easy to forge a bill of sale.”

Champion said the bill, which would raise an estimated $2.5 million in the first year, will be back before the Legislature in 2016.

Lawmakers have  until Oct. 1 to draft a budget for fiscal 2016, and they have yet to find a way to fill the looming budget shortfall.

The Star would like to hear your suggestions. Tweet your solutions to #fundingalabama or comment at tinyurl.com/fundingal.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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