Alaskans bristle over proposed Washington container tax

A resolution to impose a $100 tax on shipping containers by the state of Washington has triggered negative reactions by Alaskans and the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

“We are opposed to this, in every way,” said Aves Thompson, executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association. “The state of Washington can find better ways to raise money than to impose a tax on containers coming to and from Alaska.”

Senate Bill 5207 tries to impose a fee of $50 for each 20-foot-equivalent on every cargo container traveling between Washington state and Alaska. As most cargo containers are at least two 20-foot-equivalent units, this would subject them to a $100 fee each round trip.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, is sponsoring the legislation. The money collected would be deposited in a fund and used for road and rail improvement projects that relieve freight congestion.

Sen. Haugen’s office was contacted by the Journal for comment on this story, but was unavailable for comment.

The fee would raise an estimated $287 million for freight congestion relief projects in the next two years, and would grow to an estimated $433 million for 2009-2011.

The implications of the legislation triggered a response from the Alaska Legislature, which issued a joint resolution Feb. 7 opposing the tax.

The resolution urges the Washington state Legislature to consider alternative means for raising revenue to be used for port infrastructure improvements.

Alaska statistics indicate that 97 percent, by weight, and 60 percent, by value, of all goods shipped to Alaska are shipped by marine transportation.

Totem Ocean Trailer Express and its parent company, Saltchuk, are also against the proposal.

“TOTE and Saltchuk have communicated directly, and through organizations we are members of, that this is not good legislation for Alaska,” said Curt Stoner, sales manager for TOTE in Alaska.

Stoner also mentioned that he does not expect the bill to get far, because the U.S. Department of Transportation regulates interstate transportation.

Carlile Transportation also thinks that the proposal will die.

“We think that this proposal was intended for international cargo containers, and that it will be re-worked,” said Linda Leary, vice president of marketing for Carlile Transportation in Tacoma.

Port officials at both the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are opposed to the container fee. Officials are saying that it will raise the cost of moving containers from $200 to $300, making it harder to compete. The price for moving a container in Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., is still $200 or less.

The bill is still awaiting scrutiny by the Washington Legislature’s Executive Committee, which will either amend it or pass it out of the state’s Transportation Committee.

Rob Stapleton can be reached at [email protected].

02/17/2007 - 8:00pm