Kansas voters will weigh in on the state’s constitution in November. In addition to electing state officials, members of Congress and the president, Kansans will consider changes to the constitution that could change the way boats are registered and taxed.
Ron Kaufman, director of information services for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said his department is championing the issue of vessel taxation so more boat owners will register in Kansas.
There are approximately 85,000 boats registered in the state of Kansas, and Kaufman estimates there may be as many as 10,000 additional watercraft in Kansas registered in other states.
“It’s illegal to do that, but they do,” Kaufman said. “And it’s almost impossible to enforce.”
In Kansas the personal property tax rate is set by the Constitution. Registration and renewal fees are $32.50 for three years. Boats are taxed at a rate of 30 percent of the vessel’s value multiplied by the county mill levy. It’s significantly higher than many other states. For example, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri do not have a property tax on boats.
The proposed amendment change won’t result in an immediate lowering of boat tax rates.
“But it’s a vital first step,” Kaufman said.
The amendment itself doesn’t change boat classification or the tax rate, but the change will allow the Legislature to reclassify boats and tax them differently at some point in the future.
For every boat registered in Kansas, the state reaps registration fees, property taxes and matching federal funds. Last year, the state collected more than $950,000 in matching federal funds from boat registrations.
That money is used to fund a variety of programs including boating education, boating safety, watercraft law enforcement and to provide access to lakes and rivers for boating purposes.
“When folks register out-of-state, we lose federal matching funds, registration and county property tax,” Kaufman explained. “By having lower taxes on these vessels, it brings the tax revenue back to Kansas instead of giving it out to other states.”
Kaufman hasn’t heard much opposition to the proposal which could lower personal property taxes on boats in the future.
“People realize the potential of having lower taxes and bringing money back to the state,” he explained.
However, he has seen some online comments that suggest boat owners can afford the high tax rate. For tax purposes, a watercraft is any boat powered by gasoline, diesel, electric, oars or sail including sailboards, personal watercraft like jetskits, kayaks and canoes.
”Not all boats are large, luxury items,” Kaufman said.
The goal, Kaufman said, is to create an incentive for more Kansas boat owners to register their boats in the state.
The amendment change would help create a more friendly boating environment in the state, Kaufman explained.
“We think it perhaps could encourage more folks to purchase boats here in Kansas and in the long run, have more boats in our waters enjoying the great outdoors,” Kaufman said.