H.R. 2396 would unlock the HMTF’s existing $9.3 billion balance and enable the expenditure of about $34 billion over the next decade.
Five U.S. representatives — including House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Sam Graves, R-Mo. — co-sponsored the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act introduced earlier this week that would provide a discretionary cap adjustment for the full use of the trust fund.
H.R. 2396 would make it easier for Congress to appropriate funds collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), including the existing $9.3 billion balance, and enables the expenditure of about $34 billion over the next decade, which would allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge all federal harbors to their constructed widths and depths, according to the bill’s executive summary.
“It is wrong that for many years the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund has been raided for non-harbor purposes,” said Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chair Grace Napolitano (pictured above), D-Calif., in a statement. “This is the first step this Congress will take in ensuring that the shippers who pay the Harbor Maintenance Tax are receiving a benefit from their user fee.”
The Harbor Maintenance Tax, enacted by Congress in 1986, is directly levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal and inland ports as a 0.125 percent ad valorem tax on the value of imported cargo. The revenues are put into the HMTF from which Congress currently appropriates funds to the Army Corps of Engineers for harbor maintenance dredging.
In addition to the $9.3 billion currently in the HMTF, it will collect another $24.5 billion in new revenues, including interest, over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Federal appropriations are estimated to total $19.4 billion over the decade, resulting in a balance reaching $14.4 billion in fiscal year 2029, according to CBO.
“The federal government should be using the fees it collects at our ports for their intended purpose — harbor maintenance,” DeFazio said in a statement. “By merely spending what is already being collected we can ensure our nation’s ports and harbors remain open for business and can continue to sustain our local, regional and national economies.”
DeFazio during a February House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing said he would push for passage of similar legislation he introduced last Congress that would have authorized spending directly from the HMTF without a formal appropriation. Witnesses during an April House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing pushed for the full utilization for the HMTF.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., also co-sponsored the legislation, which was referred Thursday to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.