To help better inform citizens on what the 2013 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) will include, Sen. Vitter’s Press Office compiled several background summaries of provisions of this legislation.
This particular background summary is on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund language that will likely be included in WRDA.
Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
• The nation’s ports and waterways are grossly underfunded for routine operation and maintenance needs due to the misallocation revenues from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF).
• Revenue into the HMTF has increased steadily over the past decade, minus a one-time decrease in FY09, and the fund currently collects approximately $1.8B a year in tax revenues. [This tax is assessed on the value of imported and domestic cargo handled at ports at the current rate of 0.125% ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value)]
• At the end of FY13, the trust fund balance (or surplus) of unspent revenues will total around $8B. But because the HMTF is not a separate “off-budget” account within the Federal budget, the “surplus” is used as a budget gimmick to reduce the deficit (or is spent on general government activities). Right now, there is an IOU from the government of $6.95B that should be used to dredge the nation’s ports and waterways to their full authorized width and depth.
In this video Sen. Vitter explains this issue at a committee hearing:
• Despite the surplus, many ports and waterways are not being fully maintained. Maintaining them to their full width and depth is crucial for the nation to continue to be a key economic competitor in the worldwide market.
• According to a recent U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analysis, full authorized channel dimensions are available less than an average of 35% of the time at the 59 highest-use harbors and waterways. Highest use is based on cargo tonnage handled.
• Louisiana has five of the top 15 busiest ports in the nation, with four of those located on the Lower Mississippi River (LMR).
• Every time a vessel’s draft is decreased by one-foot because of under-maintained waterways, this costs shippers approximately $1 million dollars in the value of their cargo. This is essentially a tax on the shippers.
• Negative impacts will be felt by manufacturers, producers, shippers and waterborne carriers throughout Louisiana and the 30 states that rely upon a dependable Mississippi River transportation system.
• Inadequate maintenance of the ports and waterways is not exclusive to the Lower Mississippi River. This affects ports and facilities along the Calcasieu and Atchafalaya Rivers in Louisiana who depend on adequately maintained waterways.
• WRDA 2013 will include a practical, commonsense solution to address the revenues and expenditures of the HMTF to ensure the ports and waterways are maintained to their authorized dimensions.
• WRDA 2013 raises the Corps O&M threshold for 100% of eligible operations and maintenance from the current level of 45-feet to 50-feet.
• WRDA 2013 prioritizes operation and maintenance funding to the high-use deep draft ports and waterways (aka “projects”), then to those “projects” that have been continuously maintained below their authorized width and depth and where significant Federal, State, and local investments in infrastructure at those ports.
• WRDA 2013 protects other Army Corps of Engineer accounts from being “raided” to pay for the increase in O&M expenditures from the HMTF.
Sen. Vitter Press Office, March 14, 2013