Murray Statement on WRDA Provision to Address Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Issues

May 15 2013

Key provision would help Seattle, Tacoma ports prevent cargo diversion caused by the Harbor Maintenance Tax

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) submitted the following statement for the record regarding a provision she authored to address issues with the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund within the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed the through the Senate today.  The provision, which was supported by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), would offset tax expenses for shippers by providing payments when ships bring goods to eligible donor ports, including the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma.

“Madam President, I rise to address the Water Resources Development Act that we passed today. 

“This important legislation authorizes Army Corp of Engineers projects that provide flood control, ensure navigation to get our goods to market, and help restore our ecosystems and environment. 

“One component of this bill deals with the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. 

“Shippers pay a Harbor Maintenance Tax, which goes into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and is then appropriated for operations and maintenance at ports throughout our country.

“Now, although this legislation does not address the Harbor Maintenance Tax, I want to take a moment to talk about it. Because unfortunately, this policy is encouraging cargo diversion from our ports.

“A Federal Maritime Commission report released last year, which I requested with Senator Cantwell, indicated that cargo coming into US ports cost, on average, an additional $109 due to the Harbor Maintenance Tax.

“I find this report extremely troubling.

“While this bill does not address the tax, it does address the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The bill sets goals for additional expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and it includes a provision that I worked on closely with Chairman Boxer and Senator Cantwell.

“This provision will allow our ports to be more competitive internationally by providing payments to shippers entering or transporting cargo through an eligible donor port – one that takes in significantly more in Harbor Maintenance Taxes than it receives back for operations and maintenance, like the Port of Seattle or the Port of Tacoma.

“It is meant to reduce cargo diversion from United States ports to international ports, but not to induce cargo diversion within the United States.

“I appreciate the hard work by Chairman Boxer to include this provision in the manager’s amendment and to keep the provision intact throughout consideration of the Water Resources Development Act.

“This provision is a step in the right direction.

“But we can do more, and we must.

“Madam President, that’s why I’m working on legislation that will comprehensively reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax and the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.  

“It will ensure full spend out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and ensure all cargo is treated equally as it moves through the supply chain. 

“My goals are to increase our international competitiveness, ensure we are getting our goods to market, and provide good, family-wage jobs.

“I’ve been working with ports in Washington state and the Northwest, and I plan to introduce this legislation soon. 

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on these important issues.”