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Posted at 4:38 PM ET, 02/14/2011

Va. boat bill: More than just a tax cut for the rich?

By Peter Galuszka

Is it more a tax cut for rich yachtsmen or a jobs-booster for Virginia's marinas?

Those are the questions behind a new bill filed by Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Westmoreland), who wants to allow counties to cap personal property taxes for pleasure boats so that more of them will stay in Old Dominion waters in the off-season, to the benefit of Virginia's hull-scrapers, motorheads and marina owners.

Problem is, are we talking about the beaten-up, 20-foot center console type of craft that I used to own and keep on the Chesapeake Bay, or a luxury yacht worthy of Thurston Howell III of Gilligan's Island fame?

Therein lies the rub. It's not quite clear how big is "big." Sen. Stuart told me the description is based on various waterfront counties' personal property tax rates, which he says can be so high that the yachting class routinely sets sail during the off-season for cheaper harbors such as Maryland, North Carolina or (if they can afford the gas bill) Florida.

"I own a second-hand 25-footer, and it would not affect me. It would probably affect boats worth $100,000 or more," Stuart told me. By way of example: One likely candidate for tax relief would be a boat in the range of a 55-foot Hatteras Sport Fisherman that can easily price at $1 million or $2 million.

But is it right to back a bill that is so obviously aimed at the rich?

Stuart insists it is. Savvy boat owners know enough to move their boats around to dodge taxes. When cold weather comes, it's off to Manteo, N.C., or some place other than Virginia, where the boat is docked at a marina slip or pulled out of the water and worked on -- all to the benefit of the local economy. "I am told that if we changed the tax law, it could mean a couple of extra jobs for some of the marinas," Stuart told me.

It's a curious ethical question, but it's not something I have to ponder directly. With my kids in college and no longer interested in boating, I sold my craft for $4,800 -- definitely not in the league Stuart's talking about.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | February 14, 2011; 4:38 PM ET
Categories:  Local blog network, Prince William County, Va. Politics, Virginia, development, economy, energy, environment, taxes, tourism, transportation, weather  
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