Washington senator's freight proposal raises ire in Alaska

Plan would impose $100-plus charge on out-of-state shipments

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's been called obnoxious and offensive, even described as "an act of aggression from our southern neighbors."

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Alaska lawmakers are spouting off about a Washington state senator's proposal to impose a fee of $100 or more on shipping containers carrying freight in and out of that state - a proposal that is meeting with some turbulence on its home front, as well.

The Alaska House on Wednesday unanimously passed a joint resolution opposing the measure. The Senate is expected to weigh in with a similarly resounding message to the Washington Legislature.

Sponsor Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said the added cost of shipping would be economically devastating to Alaska.

Ninety-seven percent of goods shipped to Alaska arrive via shipping containers - almost all of them from Washington state.

The fees would add an estimated $40 million to $50 million a year to the cost of freight and be borne by consumers, Thomas said.

"With shipping fees in Alaska already astronomical, this additional tax could be devastating to the flow of goods to and from the state," Thomas said.

In informal discussions in the hallways and lounge areas of the state Capitol, the buzz is about retaliation, said Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, who made the aggression comment.

Ellis said Washington makes "truckloads - no, supertankers - of money off the state of Alaska," and lawmakers are discussing their options should the fees pass.

Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, proposed the tax as a way to pay for improvements to the state's congested port facilities.

Haugen did not return calls from The Associated Press, but Rick Manugian, a spokesman for Washington Democrats, said the bill is being reworked so that the fees conform with a similar proposal in California.

Haugen's original proposal would charge a one-way rate of $50 per 20-feet of container.

Since most containers are 40 feet in length, that would amount to $200 round trip, regardless of whether the container is empty.

The California Legislature is pushing a fee of between $25 and $30 per 20-foot unit. A bill that passed last year was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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