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How Is the Port Funded?

January 11, 2021

The Port of Seattle is an essential gateway to over 130 global destinations and a leader in moving people and cargo across the country and around the world.  As an economic engine for our region, the Port helps to support nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages throughout the region.  

What's the purpose of a port authority and why do ports focus on economic development?

Ports are unique public entities to foster economic development and create jobs within their communities. The Port of Seattle was founded with the mission of promoting economic opportunities and quality of life in the region by advancing trade, travel, commerce, and job creation in an equitable, accountable, and environmentally responsible manner. 

The Port of Seattle forms what’s called a “special purpose government” that is authorized by the State of Washington to operate public assets of statewide significance, including a world-class airport, commercial fishing facilities, cruise terminals, and marine cargo terminals. The Port and its staff are responsible for managing these facilities efficiently to benefit you, the people of the region and the state.

  • Read the Century Agenda to learn about the Port's mission and strategic plan

What are your budget priorities?

The Port of Seattle's 2021 budget and five-year capital development plan supports local, regional, and statewide economic recovery by drawing on the economic opportunity that flows from developing aviation, maritime commerce, fishing industries, and critical trade and travel infrastructure. We also build on our strategies to protect the environment and promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in all the work we do.

With the approval of the 2021 budget this week, the Port is moving forward with a five-year capital and investment plan to safely operate the essential gateways to the region, expand and create economic opportunity for all members of the community, carry out sustainability initiatives, and provide excellent public service to the community. The approved investments make travel and trade more efficient, expand community-based economic development and environmental programs, and reduce the environmental impact of Port operations. 

The Port’s 2021 budget continues the five-year strategy the Commission laid out in 2018 to build up our investment capability for strategic investments in job creation, environmental sustainability, and community benefit. 

Who pays for the operation of these facilities and port investments?

We're glad you asked — the following sources of funding are allowed by law: taxes, fees and operating revenues. The Port can also borrow funds with bonds.

1. Property taxes

As a public Port in Washington, the Port may exercise a limited authority to collect funds through property taxes. The Port keeps the levy paid by taxpayers low by maximizing operational revenue and fees. The levy provides just 4.5 percent of the Port’s annual funds to supplement operational dollars by converting public investment into public good. During the annual budget process, the Commission reviews and approves the use of the tax levy.

  • In 2021, the maximum levy allowed by law is $108.2 million; the actual levy collected in 2021 will be less than this at $78.7 million
  • In 2021, the Port estimates that the average King County homeowner will pay around $73.20 per year, likely less than your weekly grocery bill; this is a total annual increase of $1.58 per homeowner since 2020
  • Just 1.2 percent of the property taxes collected in 2019 supported the Port of Seattle

tax levy pie chart

2. Fees and operating revenues 

More than 50 percent of the Port’s funds come from operating revenue and fees from businesses and tenants who lease their facilities. These fees could include marine terminal leases, real estate and tenant leases at Port facilities, airport landing fees, passenger fees, and moorage fees at marinas. The Port also receives a number of grants.

Did you know? By law, the airport is self-funded and is supported by fees, federal grants, and operating revenues, rather than tax dollars. Essentially, those who use the airport contribute to airport operation through ticket and parking fees (travelers), airport space rental, (dining and retail, airlines, and federal agencies).

3. Bond proceeds

Ports also generate funds from bond proceeds. A bond is a contract between two parties. Companies or governments issue bonds because they need to borrow large amounts of money. Bonds have a maturity date; this means that at some point, the bond issuer has to pay back the money to the investors. Ports may issue a variety of municipal bonds for capital construction projects. Ports primarily issue revenue bonds, which are guaranteed by the operating revenues generated by the Port. The Port also issues general obligation bonds that are repaid with revenue from property taxes.  Bonds provide the funds for a port district to make a major, long-term investment in infrastructure — an investment which typically benefits a community for decades to come.

Where does the money go?

Community and transportation projects

Thank you for making an investment in these efforts through your tax dollars:  

  • Building maritime infrastructure
  • Managing projects that will protect the environment
  • Ensuring efficient transportation and mobility of goods through the region
  • Supporting local communities through workforce development, partnerships, grants, airport communities, and tourism

Your contribution to the 2021 tax levy will fund these programs that provide support to our most vulnerable communities:

  • South King County Fund environmental and economic development grants
  • Duwamish Valley Community Equity Program
  • City of SeaTac community relief
  • Economic development programs in tourism, workforce development, maritime innovation, and Diversity in Contracting

Capital projects

Capital projects make up the largest share of the Port’s spending. In the second quarter of 2020, the Port actively managed 98 construction or information technology projects: 61 under construction or in implementation and 37 in design or planning. As a financially responsible institution, the Port was able to invest $617.2 million on capital development projects in 2019. The Port’s 2021-2025 capital improvement plan anticipates spending $3.7 billion on projects to preserve assets, improve customer service, expand economic activity, generate additional Port revenue, and reduce environmental impact.

Here are just a few examples of capital projects planned for 2021:

How do I get involved?

During the annual budget process, the Port follows a transparent public process and we welcome and encourage community input through community briefing sessions and public briefings. The 2021 budget process is complete; you can read materials from the Commission study session and briefing session materials.

Do you have questions about the Port’s budget?

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