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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Washington senators introduce Maritime Goods Movement Act

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Tuesday officially introduced the Maritime Goods Movement Act for the 21st Century (S. 1509), which proposes to repeal the Harbor Maintenance Tax and replace it with a Maritime Goods Movement User Fee to help fund port operations and maintenance. They proposed the bill last month.

The legislation would "level the playing field" for U.S. ports competing for cargo by replacing the outdated Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) — a long-established import tax that helps fund port operations and maintenance — with a Maritime Goods Movement User Fee, said Murray in a press release. The user fee would discourage shippers from diverting American-bound goods through Canadian or Mexican ports "simply to avoid American taxes that fund vital infrastructure investments and keep American ports competitive in the global economy," she said.

The bill also would "dramatically improve" support for infrastructure investments at American ports by ensuring that all user fee proceeds are spent annually for operations and maintenance, said Murray. Currently, only half of the tax revenue collected through the HMT each year is spent on port upkeep, she said. A full investment of fee collections would nearly double the funds available to U.S. ports each year.

In addition, the legislation would set aside portions of the user fee to support critical low-use ports and create a competitive grant program to improve the U.S. intermodal transportation system to help goods reach their intended destinations quickly and efficiently, said Murray.

"Over the past decade, we have seen increasing competition for the market share of U.S.-bound maritime goods from ports beyond our border to the north and to the south. In fact, among the 25 largest North American ports, the fastest growing in 2012 were the Port of Prince Rupert in Canada and the Port of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico," she said. "Instead of U.S.-bound cargo creating economic growth here at home by entering at U.S. ports, we are witnessing it being diverted through Canadian and Mexican ports. This loss of cargo shipments leads to decreased activity and capacity at American ports."

S. 1509 already has received strong support from large and small ports in Washington state, including those in Seattle, Tacoma, Grays Harbor, Everett, Longview and Vancouver, she said.

The bill would significantly increase investments in America's maritime and freight infrastructure system, and could preserve 10,000 jobs between Seattle and Tacoma alone, said Port of Seattle officials in a prepared statement.

"The bill deserves serious consideration among stakeholders and the Port of Seattle will look for ways to build support for the proposal," they said.

The U.S. tax code changes would not disadvantage American ports, as the HMT does, and the money collected could be spent on port infrastructure, including maintenance dredging, said Port of Tacoma officials in a prepared statement.

"The U.S. tax code has put Puget Sound ports at a competitive disadvantage relative to other ports in North America for nearly three decades," they said. "Ports like ours receive little-to-no benefit from the tax, which in fact is used to maintain competing harbors located elsewhere in the United States."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/19/2013