U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., have introduced the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century, which aims to support U.S. ports by replacing the harbor maintenance tax.
The harbor maintenance tax is designed to fund the operation and maintenance of U.S. ports, but currently incentivizes shippers to bypass American ports and move U.S.-bound goods through Canada and Mexico instead, the legislators claim. The new legislation would replace the tax with a Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, which would assess a fee on all containers that originate internationally, including those that arrive by rail or truck.
The senators see the legislation as bolstering infrastructure investments at U.S. ports as well, by ensuring that all proceeds from the user fee are spent annually for port operation and maintenance. Currently, only part of the revenue collected through the HMT each year is spent on port upkeep. Furthermore, the legislation would set aside portions of the user fee to support critical low-use ports and to create a competitive grant program to improve the U.S. intermodal transportation system.
“Unfortunately, shippers have been able to avoid the harbor maintenance tax by shipping goods through ports in Canada and Mexico and then transporting those goods into the United States via truck and rail,” said Murray and Cantwell in a joint written statement. “This growing cargo diversion reduces the funds available to keep our ports in operating condition.”
“We believe that we must work to address the issue of cargo diversion, as well as ensure that the funds collected are allocated fully and more equitably, to meet our nationwide harbor and waterway needs,” they said. “That’s why we are proud to introduce the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century.”
The bill has received support from ports in Washington, including the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Grays Harbor, Everett, Longview and Vancouver. Stakeholders, such as the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association and the Washington Council on International Trade, have also endorsed the legislation.
“The U.S. tax code has put Puget Sound ports at a competitive disadvantage relative to other ports in North America for nearly three decades,” Port of Tacoma commissioners wrote in a letter to Murray and Cantwell. “Ports like ours receive little-to-no benefit from the tax, which in fact is used to maintain competing harbors located elsewhere in the United States.”
The Tacoma commissioners applauded the senators for “demonstrating a commitment to jobs both in Washington state, as well as throughout the U.S.”
The Port of Seattle also commended the bill and released a video that shows the senators introducing it and Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani explaining its benefits: