Harbor Maintenance Tax Could Jump from Ship to Land

Former Washington state congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley has proposed changing the Harbor Maintenance Tax from being collected only on ocean-borne cargoes to being collected on all freight from foreign sources entering the United States. In remarks to assembled west coast maritime interests, Bentley noted concerns of Washington state shippers that substantial Asian cargo is being diverted via a new port at Prince Rupert in Canada to avoid the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), which the U.S. instituted in 1986 to pay for dredging ship channels.

Freight entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by railroad does not pay any tax.

Bentley, also a past chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, said the situation is now under review at the FMC. The study was requested by the entire Congressional delegation of the state of Washington—both House and Senate—and members of California's Congressional delegation. The period for industry comment has closed, and FMC staff is analyzing 70 inputs the agency received.

During a September 2011 speech, FMC Chairman Richard Lidinsky said the agency faces important legal issues, including where does water-borne commerce begin and end, and where the responsibility lies.

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