Members of Congress want to push the government to spend money it collects from the Harbor Maintenance Tax for the purpose it was intended: maintaining ports and navigation channels.
Twin bills sponsored by Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., stipulate that funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are to be used for harbor maintenance, and would allow any member of the House or Senate to raise a point of order about an appropriations bill that allocates trust fund money to other purposes.
The bill follows similar measures Congress made in previous years to require expenditure of surpluses in the Highway, Airport and Airways, and Inland Waterways trust funds.
When he introduced his bill last week, Levin said that the Army Corps of Engineers had a dredging backlog of some 15 million cubic yards that are clogging ports and channels in the Great Lakes, with similar backlogs elsewhere. He said the lack of maintenance is forcing vessels to carry reduced loads, which is a drag on the economy.
The coalition Realizing America’s Maritime Promise, comprising ports, operators, labor and shippers, supports the legislation, said the group’s chairman Barry W. Holliday.
Last week Holliday, who is also executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America, told members of the House transportation subcommittee on water resources that in 2009 government collected some $1.3 billion in harbor maintenance revenue, but spent only $808 million. Right now the HMTF has a $5 billion surplus.
“The ability of our ports and harbors to support the nation’s continuing growth in trade and in the defense of our nation hinges on much-needed federal attention to unresolved funding needs that are derailing critical channel maintenance and deep-draft projects,” Holliday said.
Customs and Border Protection collects the Harbor Maintenance Tax from shippers at 0.125 percent of the value of the cargo. The agency collects about $3 million from the HMTF for administrative expenses. Supporters of expanding dredging under the trust fund said that Customs’ share is not affected.
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