Barge Operators Seek Fuel Tax Hike

Barge Operators Seek Fuel Tax Hike

The inland waterways industry is willing to pay higher fuel taxes to repair and maintain aging locks and dams if it can get Congress and the White House to agree.

A plan to fund the waterways system in part through a 30 to 45 percent increase in the diesel tax paid by barge and tow operators is in its final stages of preparation, Waterways Council officials said March 8 at the National Press Club in Washington.

The plan, jointly developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the barge industry, would add 6 to 9 cents to the 20 cent per gallon diesel tax paid by barge operators.

“This is the first time the (barge) industry is supporting a tax increase on itself,” said John S. Doyle, Jr., vice president of government relations at the Waterways Council.

That’s because the tax hike is one part of a broader plan to reform the Corps of Engineers and speed waterways construction projects, he said.

The plan would prioritize construction of more than 100 projects, increasing the number of projects that can be completed and stabilizing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the Waterways Council said.

The industry would prefer higher fuel taxes to an option the Bush administration pressed and the Obama administration included in its latest budget proposal: replacing the fuel tax with a fee that would levy a charge every time a barge tow passed through a lock.

“We have strongly opposed and continue to oppose the lockage fee,” said Doyle. “The lockage fee would triple the amount paid by the industry,” he said. “No one thinks it’s a fair tax. It would consolidate the taxation on certain segments of the river system.”

The waterways group said the proposals will be sent to the White House and Congress after a final report on the plan is released next month.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com.