It is good to see that some U.S. House Members reintroduced legislation to waive the Harbor Maintenance Tax for cargo so as to remove a disincentive for use of American Marine Highways.
It is also good to see that the bill’s sponsor is Rep. Patrick Tiberi (tea-berry), the chairman of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee, the panel with jurisdiction. The bill’s original co-sponsors are Steve LaTourette who, like Tiberi, is a Republican from Ohio, and Democrat Brian Higgins of Buffalo, New York.
The bill is H.R. 1533, a revisiting of the Higgins bill of the last congress. Mr. Higgins, now that the Democrats are in the minority, welcomed a colleague from the majority party to be the principal sponsor.
As written the bill would exempt non-bulk cargo from the HMT when moving between two U.S. ports or between the U.S. and Canada on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway system. In contrast to some other versions of the bill in recent years the Seaway system is defined to include Nova Scotia. For some that extends the HMT break a bit too far beyond the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. Others, starting with the Great Lakes representatives whose bill it is, like the idea of having Halifax and the proposed Melford container port in the mix.
Nevertheless, advocates for marine highway development are pleased to see the first bill of this sort introduced in the 112th Congress and will work to see the measure advance in the House and the Senate.
An HMT exemption is not a guarantee of success for those who would carry cargo in domestic and Great Lakes moves. The HMT cost to shippers is only one aspect of the cost of shipping and one factor in a decision to use marine transportation over a land route.
But removing it as a cost and administrative detail could make a difference in that decision by a beneficial cargo owner or a trucking company that might want to add the water option to its services. And removing it would also be a further signal of a shifting policy view that see public and private benefits in encouraging use of underutilized freight system capacity. Mr. Higgins has it right: “We want to again make waterways business-friendly, promoting the robust flow of goods and the creation of quality jobs.”
Those who agree with that sentiment would do well to encourage additional co-sponsors or the introduction of like measures to add to the call for action on the HMT. Pbea