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Lawmakers, ports and unions ask Congress to reform Harbor Maintenance Tax

From The Lens:

Stakeholders from the retail sector, port leadership and labor leaders are voicing strong support for a measure which would request Congress to reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) so that it no longer places a handicap on West Coast ports vying for business from U.S.-bound shippers.

HJM 4012 asks Congress to reform the HMT so that it does not competitively disadvantage U.S. ports. The measure also requests that Congress expand its uses of the tax’s revenue to give back to ports that impose the HMT on incoming shippers.

The Harbor Maintenance Tax is placed on U.S.-bound cargo and is used to fund the maintenance and dredging of harbors. The tax accounts for, on average, an extra $109 in shipper fees per container.

According to a Northwest Seaport Alliance summary paper on HMT, one-fifth of the money collected by the tax goes into dredging – a service that a naturally deep port like Seattle’s has no need for. The paper also found that the ports of Seattle and Tacoma receive just over a penny on every dollar charged to U.S.-bound shippers moving through those ports.

According to a 2012 Federal Maritime Commission study, the tax is responsible for diverting 50 percent of shippers from the Northwest, as they are choosing to route through Canada instead of the West Coast.

Gordon Baxter, lobbyist for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), said, “The HMT harms Washington state competitiveness, particularly when compared to Canada.”

HJM 4012 is scheduled for possible executive session during the House Technology and Economic Development Committee on January 23, 24 and 25.

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