Washington nixes tax on shipping containers for now

Palin signs opposition even as state calls for further study

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday signed a resolution opposing a Washington state tax on shipping containers, even though the legislature in Olympia had already changed its mind and its proposed legislation.

The Washington bill now calls for further study of shipping fees.

"It could cripple many of our state's small communities by raising the cost of living," Palin said. "Let's have this resolution anyway."

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, had introduced the resolution early last month to protest the Washington proposal, which many referred to as "a tax on all Alaskans."

It would have imposed a fee of $50 per 20-foot segment of containers leaving and entering Washington's ports. That would mean a tax of $265 for a typical 53-foot container.

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On March 12, the Washington State Senate amended the bill from a container tax to a study of shipping fees.

The bill's author, Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, had initially introduced the measure as a way to raise money to alleviate congestion at the state's ports.

While many have acknowledged that the Washington measure was intended to address a growing Asian trade, Thomas said it also "awoke the sleeping giant," Alaska.

Few pieces of business have created so little Capitol controversy as the anti-tax resolution, Thomas said. It unanimously passed the Legislature on Feb. 28.

The tax would have cost Alaska roughly $50 million per year, he said. It would have had a pronounced affect on the small communities most reliant on shipped goods.

Critics also worried that the variety and availability of goods would become more limited as transportation costs increased. It also would have put Alaskan businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Industries such as fishing, which ships most of its frozen product to Washington state, could have been seriously affected.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.

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