WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 6 SEAPOWER / OCTOBER 2013
Washington State Sens. Take Aim At
Harbor Maintenance Tax with New Bill
Washington State’s two senators are pushing legis- lation that would overhaul the current tax sys-
tem at the nation’s ports to prevent shippers from get-
ting around the decades-old Harbor Maintenance Tax
(HMT) by sending their goods to Canada or Mexico.
Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell
have drafted legislation that would repeal the tax, which
was first set up in 1986, and instead create a Maritime
Goods Movement User Fee, the proceeds of which
would be fully available to Congress to provide for port
maintenance and operations.
The bill would create incentives to ship directly to U.S.
ports by ensuring that the port fee is collected for U.S.-
bound goods, whether or not the containers stop first in
Mexico or Canada. It now is cheaper to avoid the tax alto-
gether by using ports in Mexico and Canada and then
shipping goods by train or truck into the United States.
“Currently, 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,” Cantwell said at an
Aug. 15 event in Seattle announcing the legislation.
“The threat is real.”
Indeed, the Federal Maritime
Commission estimates that as much
as 27 percent of container volume
through West Coast ports is at risk
of diverting to Prince Rupert in
Canada, a move that would have
very real effects on Washington’s
economy, where one in three jobs is
tied to trade, a large part of that maritime industry related.
Cantwell estimates that diversion
of 10,000 containers from ports in
Puget Sound would cost businesses
$1.3 billion, reduce income for workers by $833 million, cut local purchases by $192 million and reduce
state and local taxes by $75 million.
Put simply, fewer cargo contain-
ers coming into Washington’s ports
means “less work for our longshore-
men and pilots,” Murray said at the
Aug. 15 event. “And it means we
cannot make investments in infra-
structure that our ports need to be
state of the art and competitive.”
Congress first created the HMT to
recover operations and maintenance
costs — which is mostly dredging of
harbor channels to their authorized
depths and widths — at coastal and
Great Lakes harbors from maritime
shippers. The tax, which totals
$0.125 for every $100 in cargo, is
levied on domestic and international
shippers and goes into the Harbor
Maintenance Trust Fund.
Over the last several years, a
large surplus in that trust fund has
been created as expenditures have
flattened and total collections have
The administration’s fiscal 2014
spending proposal requested $890
million be spent from the trust fund,
leaving an estimated balance at the
end of the year of $8.9 billion,
according to a June 25 Congressional Research Service report.
Appropriators in the House and
Senate have approved $1 billion to
be spent from the trust fund in fiscal
The containership Hanjin Washington delivers cargo to the
Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 in June 2011. Washington
State’s two senators have introduced legislation that
would repeal the current Harbor Maintenance Tax and
create a Maritime Goods Movement User Fee. It presently is cheaper for shippers to avoid the tax by using ports
in Mexico and Canada and then shipping goods by train or
truck into the United States.