Murray, Reichert introduce bill to help U.S. ports compete

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation on Thursday in Washigton, D.C., to reform the outdated Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act of 2017 would make sure all of the money collected through the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) each year is returned directly to ports in order to improve infrastructure and keep ports competitive, according to a press release from Murray.

Currently, the HMT is not collected or spent in a way that ensures ports can continue to compete on a level playing field. Some ports, including the Ports of Seattle, Tacoma, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, receive just pennies for each dollar contributed to the HMTF from cargo unloaded at their ports. As so-called “donor ports,” they don’t receive the necessary investments they need to remain competitive.

In recent years, U.S. ports have seen ports outside of the country target and capture U.S.-bound cargo in part because of the cost advantage of not charging the HMT. The legislation introduced today would address these inequities, enhance economic competitiveness, and support jobs in Washington state and around the U.S. by ensuring donor ports can access funding for port infrastructure and rebates to shippers transporting cargo through their ports rather than routing cargo through Canada or Mexico to the U.S.

“For more than a decade, a number of U.S. ports have been operating at a competitive disadvantage, which is a drag on our economy and on thousands of good-paying jobs,” Murray said. “The bipartisan bill we are introducing would be a critical step toward restoring investments in our ports, jobs, and economic development in Washington state and around the country.”

“As one of the most trade-dependent states, strong ports are critical to Washington’s local economy,” Reichert said. “For too long, our ports have been put at a disadvantage – contributing much more than their fair share to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and facing the loss of cargo to foreign ports because of the Harbor Maintenance Tax. By increasing funding to these ports including for rebates to shippers, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act will help level the playing field supporting jobs and communities in Washington.”

“Washington state’s maritime industry supports 146,000 jobs and generates $30 billion in economic activity. By reforming the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, we can put Washington ports on a level playing field with their international competitors. It’s critical we continue to make investments in ports of all sizes so they have the tools and resources needed to create jobs and move Washington products around the globe,” Cantwell said.

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act of 2017 would:

· Establish full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each year with interest by creating a direct spending mechanism for the HMTF;

· Ensure HMTF funds collected are allocated fully and more equitably by establishing a set-aside for donor ports;

· Address the issue of cargo diversion by increasing investments to donor ports to provide rebates to shippers transporting cargo through their ports or for port infrastructure needs;

· Support operation and maintenance at our small ports and harbors by updating the baseline for the set-aside for small ports; and

· Better meet our nationwide harbor and waterway needs.

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