U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell say they will introduce legislation when the Senate returns in September that would repeal the harbor maintenance tax (HMT) on imports. They say the tax is diverting American-bound cargo to ports in Canada.
They are proposing to replace the HMT with what they call the "Maritime Goods Movement User Fee," which would apply to all points of entry for U.S.-bound cargo.
The legislation would "set aside a portion of the user fee for low-use, remote and subsistence harbors that are at a competitive disadvantage for federal funding and create a competitive grant program using a percentage of the collected user fees to improve the U.S. intermodal transportation system so imported goods and goods for export can more efficiently reach their intended destinations," the senators said in a statement. Murray noted that while Seattle and Tacoma generate 7 percent of the funds for the HMT, they only receive a penny for every dollar collected.
Only about half of the funds being collected by the HMT are being spent on port maintenance, with the remainder of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund effectively used to reduce the deficit. The Senators say their bill would call for the proceeds of
the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee to be fully available to Congress to provide for port operation
and maintenance. This would double the amount of funds available for
American ports, they said, and help exports thrive.
They said their legislation would "ensure that shippers cannot avoid the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico."
The Washington State legislators said their Maritime Goods Movement Act would also "pay for expanded infrastructure investments by closing loopholes that allow the largest oil and gas companies in America to receive billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies every year, even though they enjoy profits in excess of $100 billion annually."
“This legislation will change the Harbor Maintenance Tax to give shippers new incentives to move their goods through American ports — particularly those in the Pacific Northwest," Murray said at a press conference in Seattle.
"Some of the laws we have in place — specifically the Harbor Maintenance Tax — are actually hurting our ports and holding our economy back," she said. She said the HMT is "diverting U.S.-bound sea cargo, which should enter our country through the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma, or other ports along our shores. Instead, shippers have decided it’s more cost-efficient to send those U.S.-bound goods to Canada and Mexico first — only to ship them to the United States by truck or rail."
Cantwell said the HMT "makes it harder for our ports to compete with Prince Rupert to the North or the Port of Lazaro Cardenas to the South. The threat is real." - Chris Dupin