On February 1, 2012, the House Ways and Means Subcommittees on Oversight and Select Revenue Measures held a joint hearing on harbor maintenance funding and maritime tax issues. The hearing focused on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and Harbor Maintenance Tax, maintenance underfunding, and the tax treatment of foreign shipping operations.
Testimony was heard from: The Honorable Michael Strain, Commissioner, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry; Mr. Gary LaGrange, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Port of New Orleans; Mr. Steven A. Fisher, Executive Director, American Great Lakes Ports Association; Mr. Morten Arntzen, President and Chief Executive Officer, Overseas Shipholding Group; Mr. James C. McCurry, Jr., Director of Administration, Georgia Ports Authority; and Mr. Michael Leone, Port Director, Massachusetts Port Authority.
All witnesses supported various measures currently under consideration by Congress. Mssrs. Strain, LaGrange, Fisher and Leone testified in support of the Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act, or H.R. 104 (Mr. McCurry testified in support of the general ideas embodied it). Mr. Arntzen testified in support of the American Shipping Reinvestment Act.
Topics discussed included:
- Recent free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, Korea, and the Panama Canal extension (scheduled to be complete in 2014), and their potential impact on the need for waterway infrastructure improvements.
- The RAMP Act, which would ensure funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) are utilized for the intended purpose of dredging and maintaining coastal ports, harbors and waterways.
- The American Shipping Reinvestment Act, which would make substantial changes to taxes and earnings regulations of foreign shipping companies doing business in the U.S.
- Misuse of Harbor Maintenance Tax revenues (including $6.1 billion in unspent funds in the Trust Fund). Some believe that this underfunding is causing an increasing need for major dredging operations to keep shipping routes viable.
- The concepts of “sort sea shipping” and “marine highways.”
- The Harbor Maintenance Tax, which may discourage companies from shipping by water when other options exist. This includes “double taxing” of cargo taken from freighters and further shipped by smaller craft.
Dredging Today Staff, February 6, 2012; Image: usace