Congressmen call for full use of dredging funds
A bipartisan group of 34 U.S. Representatives has sent a letter to the House Budget Committee requesting all proceeds of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) be utilized for harbor dredging.
Congress established the HMTF in 1986 — financed through a 0.125 percent tax on cargo imported through a port or moved between two domestic ports — to fund up to 100 percent of dredging costs at domestic ports and waterways.
But the group, led by Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., said recent administrations have utilized only one-half to two-thirds of the revenue for harbor maintenance resulting in a $6 billion surplus in the fund.
President Obama’s budget request for 2012 “continues this trend, estimating that the tax will take in almost $1.5 billion while only allocating $789 million to harbor and channel dredging and other authorized fund uses,” said the letter, dated April 1. “Meanwhile, the vast majority of our nation’s harbors, including eight of the top 10 largest ports, are not being maintained to their fully authorized width and depth, thus constricting our ability to export products, engage in international trade and create jobs.”
Legislation to require money credited to the HMTF be used for harbor maintenance was reintroduced in Congress earlier this year in both the House (H.R. 104) and Senate (S.412).
And a broad coalition of maritime companies called RAMP: Realize America’s Maritime Promise, Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Fairness Coalition, has been working since 2008 to build support for that legislation.
The letter from the Congressmen said the proposed fiscal year 2012 “actually proposes to worsen the situation by ‘significantly expanding’ authorized uses of the HMTF in order to finance additional functions other than dredging.”
At a hearing on March 8 before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the Obama administration 'plans to develop legislation to expand the authorized uses of the trust fund, so that its receipts are available to finance the federal share of other efforts in support of commercial navigation through the nation's port.'
She said 'no decisions have been made yet on what additional costs would be proposed to be paid from receipts into the harbor maintenance trust fund,' but added, 'development of proposed legislation will proceed in the coming months.'
The congressional letter said, 'at a time when the unemployment rate continues to hover around 9 percent, we believe the best way to utilize the revenue in the HMTF is by fully committing these resources to activities which increase U.S. job-producing international trade, namely, dredging of our nations harbors.
“On a more basic level, it is fundamentally wrong for the government to impose a tax for one purpose, only to utilize the proceeds from this tax to fund an entirely different program,' wrote Landry and his colleagues. ' Chris Dupin