By Bobby Frederick, Director of Legislative Affairs and Public Policy
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 8 approved legislation (H.R. 2440) that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fully utilize funds collected in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for port dredging and maintenance activities.
The HMTF was established in 1986 and is funded through a 0.125 percent tax on the value of imported cargo going through U.S. ports. Congress created the fee with the rationale that beneficiaries of properly dredged ports should contribute to that maintenance. Over the years, more harbor maintenance fees have been collected than Congress has appropriated to be spent, and as a result there is currently a surplus of more than $9 billion in the HMTF account.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that H.R. 2440, introduced and spearheaded by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would make a total of $34 billion in harbor maintenance fees available for use over the next 10 years. Supporters of the legislation claim it would boost global competitiveness by allowing all federal harbors to be dredged to their intended specifications by the Army Corps of Engineers.
This is not the first time DeFazio has advanced the concept of freeing up these surplus funds. But on each previous occasion, the provision has been deleted, likely because it takes away some of the power and decision-making authority of congressional appropriators.
It remains unknown if or when this legislation will be considered by the full House. However, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., reportedly is trying to include such a provision in the long-stalled disaster-assistance bill. The NGFA will keep members apprised of the progress of this policy proposal.