I agree with Secretary Griffin on one point and that is the need to keep our waterways and channels dredged for our recreational and charter boat owners, and our watermen. Boating is essential to Maryland's unique character and is vital to our economy; in-state spending by boat owners is estimated at $2 billion and supports 35,000 Maryland jobs.
But I disagree that we need to raise the boating registration fees to pay for the state's mismanagement of funds.
Between 1991 and 2004, $48 million has been pilfered from the dedicated boating fund and used to shore up the budget shortfall. Although it has mostly been replaced with IOUs through bonds, the fund transfers have caused delays in boating projects, and according to a DNR report, resulted in the elimination of 790 grant programs. Sadly, these bonds they used as replacements for the money must be paid back with interest by Maryland taxpayers. Essentially, that means you're paying twice.
Until recently, a small but significant portion of the state gas tax was used each year to help keep the Waterway Fund afloat. But that stopped a few years ago when that Transportation Fund was raided and also ran dry.
The money generated by the state's 23.5 cent gas tax goes to maintaining and building roads and mass transit. But that means boaters are paying into this transportation fund each time they pump a gallon of gas or diesel into their boat but none of it makes its way to the Waterway Fund.
There's a misconception that boaters will somehow absorb the dramatic fee increase, but this proposal will keep many boaters on land. This leads to diminished returns with fewer boat slip rentals, less maintenance and repair work, and fewer boat sales.