- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

ANNAPOLIS (AP) Maryland is going after boaters who avoid the state's long-ignored boat tax.
The one-time "use tax," costing 5 percent of a boat's worth, is levied on boats that spend most of their time on Maryland's waterways. But the tax has been largely avoided by boaters, who only have to sign an affidavit swearing the boat's principal use will be in other states.
Many boaters sign the affidavits but keep their boats in Maryland anyway.
Other evaders buy their boats or register them in other states but keep them in the Chesapeake Bay or other Maryland waterways most of the year.
A five-person state Department of Natural Resources unit is targeting the tax evaders and has collected $1.5 million in taxes for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That's up from less than $75,000 a few years ago.
The unit is investigating 585 boats whose owners may not have paid the tax. Thousands of delinquent boats may lie in Maryland's marinas, said Dave Van Dyke, who heads the unit.
Mr. Van Dyke doesn't know for sure how many boats are avoiding the tax, but his experience in limited areas mainly near Annapolis indicates that the problem is widespread. A typical marina may have as many as one in five boats cheating on the tax.
Critics say cracking down on cheaters of the boat tax may be harmful to the state in the long run, chasing away wealthy boat owners from other states.
"It won't take long for word to spread among boat owners that Maryland is a dangerous place to cruise," said boatyard owner Chris Washburn. "If this scares them off, it will affect not just me, but restaurants, airlines, hotels, marinas and many others."
Licensing and taxing officials said the tax is aimed at people who keep their boats in Maryland, not casual out-of-state visitors.
Mr. Van Dyke's team patrols the state's waters looking for boats that appear to be owned by longtime residents but don't display a tax decal or state registration number.
If caught avoiding the tax, a boat owner could be required to pay the tax plus a penalty worth 100 percent of the tax.

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