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Lawmakers argue that capping the tax on big-boat buys helps state compete with Florida and New York, which already offer similar incentives

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New York politicians raised eyebrows earlier this year when they passed a new state budget that provided a tax break to those wealthy enough to buy a yacht. As New Jersey lawmakers continue to evaluate Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget, some now want to do the same.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) has that would cap the amount of sales and use tax that can be levied on a noncommercial boat in New Jersey at $20, 000. The change, he said, is needed to keep pace with states like Florida and now New York that provide similar incentives.

And though it may seem odd to offer such a break at a time when New Jersey is having trouble funding its public-employee pension system and commuters are facing New Jersey Transit fare hikes, Van Drew said the policy change is crucial for the state’s boating industry, which has struggled in recent years with a recession and the effects of superstorm Sandy.

“This is not an effort to give millionaires a break, make no mistake about it, ” Van Drew said.

But critics of the proposal, which is being cosponsored by Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), say the incentive will not have a measurable impact on New Jersey’s economy. They want to see more focus on investment in transportation and schools instead.

So far, no official fiscal impact study has been conducted by legislative analysts in New Jersey.

Right now, New Jersey generally levies a 7 percent sales tax on noncommercial boats purchased here, and there is no cap on the amount of taxes that can be paid on a single boat purchase. The measure Van Drew and Whelan are proposing would cap the total amount of sales taxes paid on a noncommercial boat purchase at $20, 000. For some context, if the cap were passed it would provide a roughly $1, 000 break to someone buying a boat worth $300, 000, and a $22, 000 break to someone buying a boat worth twice as much.

But Van Drew said the sales-tax cap is really about helping the state’s boating and marina industries, two big components of New Jersey’s broader shore and tourism economy.

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