A California legislative committee has given its stamp of
approval to a bill that would tax every shipping container passing through the Ports
of Los Angeles and Long Beach and spend the money, in part, on rail facilities
designed to replace port truckers.
The California Senate Environmental Quality Committee voted 5-2 Tuesday, April 26, in favor of the bill, SB760. However, the bill is not headed to the full Senate yet; the panel re-referred it to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
The bill, which had already passed the Senate Transportation
and Housing Committee on a 9-3 vote, was proposed by Sen. Alan Lowenthal,
D-Long Beach, the chairman of the Committee on Environmental Quality. He has
introduced a flurry of bills dealing with port issues during this legislative
session in California.
Under SB760, the state would collect a $30 tax on every
20-foot container, and $60 on every 40-foot container. The money would be
divided up among several uses.
One-third of the money would be give to the ports
themselves. That portion would be spent on security improvements at the massive
facilities, said to be the largest ports in the United States.
The ports would be required to work with a bevy of security
agencies – including the Coast Guard, the Homeland Security Department and
various state agencies – to select which security improvements would be funded.
However, the bill requires that part of the money be spent on screening
shipping containers. Federal officials have said that only a small fraction of
containers moving into the country are now screened.
One-third of the money would go to the South Coast
Air Quality Management District, which would use the money to cut back
emissions from ships, trucks and rail facilities that the district determines
are contributing to air pollution near the facility.
All of the money spent by the air quality district under the
bill would have to be used at the two ports. The bill specifies that a portion
of the money could be spent on “replacing highly-polluting engines with cleaner
engines and retiring the engines that have been replaced.”
The rest of the money would go to the California Transportation Commission to “alleviate congestion on the highways serving the ports.” However, the bill says none of it can be actually spent on the highways; all of the money given to the commission under the bill would be required to be spent on improving the rail systems that serve the port to replace trucks that move containers over land.
In fact, the text of the bill says it would specifically “prohibit commission from using the funds to construct, maintain, or improve highways.”