When asked about some of the best things in District 6 and eastern Baltimore County, residents would surely be quick to note our abundant waterfront access and boating-related activities.
In recent years, however, the long-term vitality of the industry has come under attack.
It is no secret that the state’s Waterway Improvement Fund, which is funded entirely by user fees on boaters and is used to pay for hundreds of public navigation channels and thousands of water-borne markers, is depleted. Under current projections, the $15 million expected to be brought into the fund this year is woefully below the amount needed to keep our waterways clear and accessible.
In recent years, the response has been scaling back on the amount of dredging and other boating-related work completed. Making matters worse, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also scaled back their dredging in response to their own budget woes—cuts that could add millions more in responsibilities for Maryland agencies.
All told, the state remains tens of millions short in the necessary funding to keep waterways up to appropriate standards to support maritime industries.
While we certainly do not want to become a “high tide state”—where residents can only access certain parts of the Bay during high tide—the sustaining of the channels need not entirely be funded through the Waterway Improvement Fund.
For example, the state should consider diverting the portions of the state gasoline tax sold on the water toward the improvement of our waterways. If this seems unreasonable, consider this: Maryland currently subsidizes the horseracing industry with tens of millions of dollars of gambling revenue.
Given how much more important the boating industry is to the long-term viability of our state (creating $2 billion in economic activity and supporting an estimated 35,000 jobs), it seems reasonable that the state create a subsidy, or divert at least a portion of other subsidies, to support the dredging that is so needed to prop up our boating industries.
But the is the wrong way to address these challenges. The most recent economic downturn has affected everyone, and the boating industry has been hit especially hard.
Those who are still boating face ever-increasing gas prices, increased tolls, and now also have to fear the incredibly large increases proposed by DNR. Currently, boaters pay $24 biannually in boat registration costs. There is also a 5 percent excise tax paid for all new boats and when others are moved into Maryland from outside states.
While it has been more than two decades since these costs have been increased, the tripling of these fees ($75 biannually) for small boats and other massive increases ($500 biannually) for boats over 45 feet are bad ideas on their own—but they also could not come at a worse time.
With the majority of boats being valued at just over $10,000, we should be doing everything we can to encourage more people to get their vessels out of the garage and into the water. Jacking up boater registration fees has the opposite impact, and only does additional damage to the vital marine trades industry.
I believe in supporting our boating industry, and will do all that I can to ensure that such support does not happen through additional costs imposed on our boaters and residents.