Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Putting the Weight on Freight

Submitted by Paul Ellis

Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen--chair of the Transportation Committee--has a problem, and it's a big one. Transportation leaders have long been calling for funding for improvements they say are needed to keep cargo moving through the state, and--despite big boosts in gas tax revenues won in past Legislative sessions--the funding gap for those improvements keeps growing. Haugen has dropped SB5207, imposing a $50 tax on each 20-foot-equivalent (a measure of cargo container capacity) containers moving through the state’s ports.

“We’re looking for money to do the freight projects that the ports and freight people talk about,” Haugen recently told The News Tribune. “This is the way we’ve come up with to pay for it. We asked them to suggest a different way--or they could cut their projects.”

While the tax would raise an estimated $287 million for freight congestion relief projects in this biennium, RAMP opposes its imposition. Port officials and maritime business leaders worry that such a charge might drive cargo away from Washington ports to Canada, California and Oregon. Last year, the Port of Tacoma lost business to Southern California after a railroad operator negotiated higher rates with one of the shipping lines.

Shippers don’t think about the value of the goods in a container, but instead how much it costs to move a box. It now costs about $200 to move a container through the Port of Tacoma; add $100 to that cost--most containers are 40 feet long--and the cost rises to $300. More than 70 percent of the international cargo that came through the Port of Tacoma in 2005 left for the Midwest on a train and could be shipped through other ports, so the proposed container tax would have a negative effect on business here.

Although this particular effort is misguided, Senator Haugen's problem is very real, and RAMP shares the responsibility for seeking a solution.

Paul Ellis is lead staff for RAMP; an employee of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, Ellis led the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee (PCTAC), the community's largest transportation planning effort.

1 comment:

  1. Would a national container tax, allocated back to states in proportion to where collected, meet the goal of linking freight improvements to revenue proportional to the volume of containers?