News Releases

Senator Murray has long fought for changes to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) and Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) in this year’s Water Development Resources Act (WRDA), which was included in the year-end funding package that the Senate passed today 

Senator Murray championed the inclusion of provisions that would increase funding to ports in Washington state and across the country and address other Washington state water infrastructure priorities 

ICYMI: Senator Murray Applauds House Passage of Funding Increase for Washington State Ports – MORE HERE 

ICYMI: Senator Murray, Senate Democrats Push to Equitably Fund U.S. Ports – MORE HERE 

Senator Murray: “This bill takes critical steps to secure the long-term financial outlook of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, among others, keep jobs in Washington state, and fix this broken system”

(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) today applauded the Senate passage of the House-Senate conference agreement on the Water Development Resources Act (WRDA) 2020, which includes provisions Senator Murray has long fought for to reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) and to more equitably distribute money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for maintenance projects at America’s ports. The WRDA agreement was included in the year-end appropriations bill that the Senate passed today, and was passed by the House earlier this month.

“For too long, the existing system has forced Washington state ports to operate at a competitive disadvantage, stifling our state’s potential for economic growth and threatening thousands of good paying jobs” Senator Murray said. “This bill takes critical steps to secure the long-term financial outlook of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, among others, keep jobs in Washington state, and fix this broken system. As a champion for our ports I’m glad we’ll be able to finally make these changes, and I look forward to the bill being signed into law.”

Once signed into law, the provisions of the WRDA bill relating to the HMTF will significantly increase investment in ports in Washington state and across the country, which in turn will support American jobs and help U.S. ports maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly global maritime economy. The legislation incorporates long sought after formula changes to distributions from the HMTF and builds on a provision included in the CARES Act that allowed all of the money collected through the HMT each year to be returned directly to ports to improve infrastructure and keep ports competitive.

“Senator Murray has delivered a huge win for The Northwest Seaport Alliance by making critical changes to the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT). As a donor port to this fund, we routinely only see pennies on every dollar collected at our ports. By making the HMT more equitable, we will become a more competitive gateway, allowing us to improve our harbors and provide relief to neutralize the disparity versus ports in Canada where no HMT is charged,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President and Co-Chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance John McCarthy.

“The Northwest Seaport Alliance thanks Senator Murray for her tireless work on behalf of our cargo gateway. These improvements to the HMT are long overdue and something our stakeholders and customers have long been waiting.  Better rates and a more efficient gateway can mean more cargo, which translates into more jobs and economic growth for our region,” Port of Seattle Commission President and Co-Chair of The Northwest Seaport Alliance Peter Steinbrueck said.

Senator Murray successfully pushed to include language in the WRDA legislation to more equitably distribute funding to ports across the country by setting aside minimum percentages of annual HMTF allocations for donor and energy ports, Great Lakes ports, and small harbors. This means that ports across the country, including the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, would receive an increased, fairer share of annual maintenance money. Currently, imports through large ports like Tacoma and Seattle generate over 50% of the national HMT revenues, yet these ports receive only 3% in return because their naturally deep harbors require minimal maintenance dredging, the primary purpose for which HMT funds are used. To further address this, Senator Murray also successfully worked to include a rebate program that would benefit ports in Washington state by allowing U.S. ports to issue rebates to shippers for using their services, mitigating the current incentive for shippers to divert cargo to Canadian ports, which do not assess a harbor maintenance tax.

In addition to securing reform to the HMTF, the 2020 WRDA bill includes several other water infrastructure priorities for Washington state, such as addressing deepening issues at both the Seattle and Tacoma Harbors, and continued progress for the construction of a fish passage facility at Howard Hanson Dam and maintenance work within the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Program (PSNERP). Additionally, the bill includes the deauthorization of a federal channel within the Port of Anacortes’s Cap Sante Marina, which would ease some operation and maintenance work as well as provide some permit streamlining. The bill also authorized a feasibility study for a turning basin on the lower Columbia River.

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