Boaters pay a lot in taxes and fees. While not exactly earth-shattering news, it’s worth mentioning and highlighting what the 250,000 registered boats (not to mention the visiting vessels) do for the Washington state economy. As the late state Senator Andy Hill would say, “For a state (like ours) without an income tax, supporting a thriving boating economy is the next best thing.”
So, when it comes to taxes, here’s just a few of the taxes Joe and Jane Boater face every time they register their boat. There are $3 directed into the derelict vessel fund. Plus, Washington’s Department of Fish & Wildlife receives $2 from every registration to combat zebra and quagga mussels. There’s the excise tax that every registered boat owes each year (amounts to .5 of one percent of the boat’s value) that is placed in the state’s General Fund (that’s about $35 million every two years). Unfunded gas tax dollars are collected by the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), which amounts to $8 million ever year (give or take).
On top of the higher profile taxes (and I haven’t even mentioned the sales tax that’s over 10 percent in King County), there are fees. If you visit a state park, then you are familiar with the Discover Pass fee for the various marine parks. There are crabbing and recreational fishing fees. All in all, there’s about $60 million collected in taxes and fees each year from boaters.
That’s the bad news, but that’s also the good news. Boating and politics and government are intertwined because so much of what we hold dear is decided not only on the water (of course, that’s true), but it’s also decided in Olympia and at your local city levels of government (and then there’s D.C. decisions that affect ethanol and tax/tariff polices). There’s a strain of political science reasoning that those who pay a lot in taxes (that’s us!) have more skin in the game and should be (and most often do) pay closer attention to politics. That’s the reasoning as to why 60-year-olds are much more likely to vote then 19-year-olds.
As boaters transfer $60 million to government (and destroy $60 million of their collective income), it behooves us to sit up and hold our elected officials accountable. A case in point is the recent (as in April 10, 2018 press release from the Department of Ecology) to make Puget Sound a No Discharge Zone (NDZ). If you read the newspapers, the headlines wrack up some cheap political points without scratching the surface as to what this issue is really about.
First, here’s what it’s not about: No Discharge Zones have been shown to improve water quality. Second, this issue does not affect the current law that states dumping black water is illegal. Third, what is in the scope of this new regulation of marine sanitation devices (MSDs) that, according to their manufactures, discharge effluent that is cleaner than municipal sewer plants?
For the vast majority of boaters, this NDZ will have little effect on you. Holding tanks will need to be pumped out. The vessels most affected (tugboats, UnCruise, superyachts) will no longer be able to use their MSDs in Puget Sound. With all the misinformation out there, it makes sense as to why my phone has been constantly ringing since this regulation moved forward.
Speaking of moving forward, as this ties into more of the large boating population, look for marine law enforcement (and the U.S. Coast Guard) to spend more of our tax dollars enforcing this new regulation. The state will have more authority to board vessels to ensure they are not illegally dumping black water (again, something that is already illegal).
As I mentioned in last month’s column, it’s a missed opportunity on Ecology and the environmental community’s parts to not look at targeted No Discharge Zones instead of a Puget Sound-wide No Discharge Zone. Then again, logic, data, and science have not had much traction here. As an aside, what constituted Ecology’s initial outreach on this six-year approach to the NDZ were two “sticky-dot” exercises that had about 15 meeting attendees, including yours truly. Yes, Ecology has seen a deluge of supportive postcards (like 25,000) but when the messaging is “keep poop out of Puget Sound,” it’s not exactly like “we are playing on level” as President Obama would say.
Expect to see more articles and news on this subject. Please ask me questions. At the outset, Ecology is focusing on education and outreach (hopefully, no sticky dots) as this new regulation rolls out. Down the line, don’t be surprised to see more enforcement on the water. I’ll do my best to keep you abreast of any future developments as part of my On Watch duties.