Friday, September 20, 2013

Pacific Northwest Ports Back Maritime Goods Legislation

The Port of Seattle and other stakeholders have come out in support of proposed legislation that would repeal the federal Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with a maritime goods movement fee, saying that it would save thousands of jobs in the region.

The legislation was proposed in August 2013 by U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Washington state Democrats. They say the problem with the current Harbor Maintenance Tax, which is levied on imports and funds the operation and maintenance of seaports throughout the US, is not being fully collected.

Shippers can avoid paying the tax by shipping goods through other ports in Canada and Mexico and then transporting those goods into our country via truck and rail.

But the senators say they have a solution to the problem. Their bill would repeal the Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, the proceeds of which would be used for port operation and maintenance.

The senators say the fee would nearly double the amount of funds available for American ports by ensuring that shippers cannot avoid the fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico. In a Sept. 17 statement, the Port of Seattle expressed strong support for the bill.

“The Port of Seattle applauds Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell for being strong champions for our nation’s ports by sponsoring the Maritime Goods Movement Act,” the statement reads in part. “The bill significantly increases investments in America’s maritime and freight infrastructure system.”

The legislation would also set aside a portion of the user fee for critical low-use ports that are at a competitive disadvantage for federal funding, and create a grant program using a percentage of the collected user fees to improve the U.S. intermodal transportation system.

“By leveling the playing field and encouraging competition, this legislation could preserve 10,000 jobs between Seattle and Tacoma alone,” the Port of Seattle said in its statement. “The bill deserves serious consideration among stakeholders and the Port of Seattle will look for ways to build support for the proposal.”

The ports of Tacoma, Grays Harbor and Vancouver, Washington have also endorsed the legislation, according to the senators, as have the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association and the Washington Council on International Trade.