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HARBOR MAINTENANCE: Murray, Cantwell Secure Wins for Ports of Seattle, Tacoma in Federal Water Resources Deal

May 15 2014

Provision pushed by both WA Senators included in long-overdue bicameral, bipartisan deal

Significant reforms to Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund directly benefit “donor ports” like Seattle and Tacoma

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that a critical provision they authored to reform the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) and significantly benefit the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma was included in the bipartisan, bicameral deal on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) released this afternoon.  As “donor ports,” the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma currently receive just pennies for each dollar they contribute to the HMTF through collected shipping taxes, while other ports around the country disproportionately receive millions more. 

The provision included in the WRRDA deal today reforms the HMTF, for the first time in history to address the system’s inequities towards “donor ports” and cargo diversion by authorizing $25 million for “donor ports” to use for port infrastructure improvements and rebates to importers and shippers in order to even the playing field for the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and others.

The provision included in WRRDA builds on existing efforts from Senators Murray and Cantwell to overhaul the outdated Harbor Maintenance Tax and Trust Fund and keep American ports like Seattle and Tacoma, who currently see millions of dollars in shipments each year diverted to ports in Canada and Mexico, competitive in the global marketplace.  In September of 2013, Murray and Cantwell introduced the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century, which would repeal the Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, nearly doubling the amount of funds available for American ports and allocating these funds fully and more equitably to better meet our nation’s harbor and waterway needs. The legislation would also ensure that shippers cannot avoid the Maritime Goods Movement User Fee by using ports in Canada and Mexico.

“The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are critical to Washington state’s economy, but under our current tax laws, they are cheated out of millions of dollars in revenue they need to improve their infrastructure, compete in the global maritime economy, and attract shipments that are currently diverting to ports in Canada and Mexico,” said Senator Murray.  “While the provision we secured in this deal doesn’t completely fix the broken system that’s hurting our ports, it’s a critical step forward for the economy in Washington state and the entire Pacific Northwest.”

“In Washington state, our ports are hubs for job growth and economic development,” said Senator Cantwell. “The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma support more 200,000 jobs. But these ports are under threat. 27 percent of international container cargo is at risk of diversion to Canada or Mexico from four West Coast ports. Our provision would help level the playing field for Washington ports and support the jobs that depend on them.”

“The Port of Seattle is thankful to have champions for maritime related jobs in Washington, D.C.  With Senators Murray and Cantwell’s leadership and with support from partners in Washington’s delegation, Congress has finally passed a law to help prevent cargo diversion and level the playing field for our region,” said Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire.

“For nearly three decades the U.S. tax code has put Puget Sound ports at a competitive disadvantage relative to other ports in North America. For the first time in the history of the Harbor Maintenance Tax, the needs of natural deep water harbors like the Port of Tacoma—which have received little to no benefit from the tax—have been acknowledged.  We want to thank Senators Murray and Cantwell for making this happen,” said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Clare Petrich.

Other Washington state wins secured by Senators Murray and Cantwell in the WRRDA deal:

  • Making Section 214 of WRDA 2000 permanent, which allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to receive funding from non-federal entities to support the permitting process. Section 214 will dramatically help reduce project backlogs in the Pacific Northwest and assist ports and local governments compete for economic development projects.
  • $20 million in additional funding authority for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out the Lower Columbia River Ecosystem Restoration program and meet important requirements in the 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion (BiOp).  The BiOp plays a key role in preventing further population loss of Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin and without this increase the Army Corps would reach its funding limit for these efforts in Fiscal Year 2015.
  • Authorize a new federal, nation-wide program to prevent and manage aquatic invasive species that pose significant risks to the environment and water infrastructure and ensure boat inspection stations are established in the Columbia River Basin in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.