Senators Cantwell, Murray Introduce Bill to Help Washington State, U.S. Ports Compete

Reforms the Harbor Maintenance Tax to even playing field for ports

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act of 2016, a new bill that would significantly increase investment in Washington state and other U.S. ports, which in turn will support American jobs and help U.S. ports maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly global maritime economy. The bill 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. Right now, the HMT is not being collected or spent in a way that ensures ports can continue to compete on a level playing field. Because of this, U.S. ports, which drive job creation and anchor our economy, can’t make the infrastructure investments they need to support American businesses.

As “donor ports,” the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma currently receive just pennies for each dollar they contribute to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) from cargo unloaded at the Northwest Seaport Alliance. In addition, for more than a decade, U.S. ports like Seattle and Tacoma have seen ports outside of the United States target and capture U.S. bound cargo in part because of the cost advantage of not charging the Harbor Maintenance Tax. The Murray-Cantwell bill would address these inequities, enhance our economic competitiveness, and support jobs in Washington state by ensuring donor ports – which put more into the HMTF than they get out – can access funding for port infrastructure and rebates to shippers and importers transporting cargo through their ports rather than going to ports in Canada or Mexico. The legislation also makes permanent a 10 percent set-aside for small ports and harbors each year.

“Investing in our ports builds a stronger economy and creates jobs,” said Cantwell, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Finance. “Senator Murray and I have been working to continue our success in reforming the Harbor Maintenance Tax, and this bill is the next step in creating a modern and fair port policy.  These necessary changes will make Washington ports more competitive and protect Washington jobs. As the country’s most trade-dependent state, upgrading our ports to better compete with our international competitors is critical to strengthening Washington’s economy.”

“Simply put, the existing system is broken and putting Washington state ports at a competitive disadvantage,” said Senator Murray. “This bill would be a critical step to support ports of all sizes, keep jobs in Washington and the Pacific Northwest, and fix this broken system. Ports in Tacoma and Seattle are critical to our state’s economy, and we need to make sure we are doing what we can to encourage job growth and development in Washington state.”

“Ports are core job creators in Washington state, and the Harbor Maintenance Tax has threatened those jobs for 30 years by diverting cargo to Canadian ports. Sens. Murray and Cantwell have courageously introduced meaningful reforms that will help us compete more effectively,” said Connie Bacon, president of the Port of Tacoma commission. “Thanks to their efforts, customers of The Northwest Seaport Alliance finally will get something for their money.”

“The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was intended to help maintain all of the country’s ports. Diverting those funds and not fully utilizing them hurts US ports and maritime jobs, which means less cargo crossing our docks and less work. Ports are critical economic drivers that support good paying, family wage jobs. The ILWU supports Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell's efforts to reform the HMTF, create an even playing field for U.S. ports, and protect and create maritime jobs," said Robert McEllrath, International President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Senators Murray and Cantwell have been working for years to overhaul the outdated Harbor Maintenance Tax and Trust Fund. The bill builds upon their work in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, in which Senators Murray and Cantwell secured reforms to the HMTF for the first time in history to address the system’s inequities toward donor ports and cargo diversion, and subsequently fought to fund this provision in the Fiscal Year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

Specifically, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Reform Act of 2016 would:

  • Establish full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each year with interest by creating a direct spending mechanism for the HMTF;
  • Ensure funds collected are allocated fully and more equitably by establishing a set-aside for donor ports;
  • Address the issue of cargo diversion by enabling donor ports to provide rebates to shippers and importers transporting cargo through their ports;
  • Support operation and maintenance at our small ports and harbors by making their set-aside permanent; and
  • Better meet our nationwide harbor and waterway needs.