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Drive to repeal boat user fee gains momentum

Boat owners are sailing further away from $127-million in new taxes this year, after a full committee markup unanimously approved a repeal of the user fee Wednesday. The fee was tacked onto last year's deficit reduction bill, and Rep. Robert Davis, R-Mich., has since lead a repeal drive in the House. Intended for boat owners to help pay for Coast Guard programs such as search-and-rescue and towing, the fee has been called "a late-night, back-room deal" that sends the money directly to the general treasury.

The Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee approved the repeal and Davis, also a member of the committee, presented his amendment to offset the $718-million loss of revenue from the five-year fee.

His plan would require the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) to pay an access fee of 35 cents for each minute the commission's electronic tariff data base is accessed or used.

"Actually, over the five-year plan, Congressman Davis' amendment will raise about $32-million more," said Sue Waldron, the committee's press secretary.

Under current law, water common carriers are required to file tariffs, or rates for transportation of goods, with the commission. Davis' amendment would require them to file electronically, beginning Feb. 1, 1992, and pay a computer access fee.

He estimated that by 1995, nearly $750-million would be raised.

Aides to Davis said the repeal will reach the House floor by summer's end.

Meanwhile, a separate drive to repeal drive the luxury tax on boats with price tags over $100,000 has gained momentum as well.

Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., leading the drive in the House, received support from Sen. Bob Graham, R-Fla., when his proposal reached the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

Shaw said nearly 5,000 workers in Florida's boat industry have been laid off because of the luxury tax, but feels confident the repeal will go through.

"We have just over 100 sponsors on this thing," he said. "People are finally beginning to realize that in its zeal to stick it to the fat cat, Congress hit the worker right between the eyes."

The repeal will go before the Ways and Means Committee in early July.