Lawmakers introduce legislation to invest billions in coastal and inland harbors

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), introduced legislation that would invest $34 billion of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) revenues in critical port and harbor maintenance activities over the next decade, without any additional cost to taxpayers.

NMMA welcomed the move and applauded Chairman DeFazio and Ranking Member Graves for their leadership on the issue.

In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for federal ports from maritime shippers to ensure that our nation’s harbors would always be properly dredged and fully operational. The HMT is directly levied on importers of domestic shippers using coastal or inland ports as a 0.125 percent ad valorem tax on the value of imported cargo.

HMT revenues are deposited into the HMTF within the U.S. Treasury from which Congress appropriates funds to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for harbor maintenance projects. However, much of the fund’s annually collected revenue does not make its way back to where it was originally intended and is desperately needed.

In fact, the Corps estimates that full channels at the nation’s 59 busiest ports are available less than 35% of the time – and the conditions of small and emerging harbors are far worse. The result of insufficient funding for maintenance and dredging projects is deterioration of our nation’s ports, harbors, and waterways that support thousands of jobs and commercial and recreational economic development nationwide.

Approximately $9.3 billion in already collected HMT revenues sits idle in the U.S. Treasury, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the HMTF will collect an additional $24.5 billion in new revenues over the next decade. Yet, according to CBO, Congress is on pace to invest only $19.4 billion in harbor maintenance over the same decade, resulting in a HMTF balance of $14.4 billion by Fiscal Year 2029.

The full utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act would do the following to ensure HMTF revenue is used for the intended purpose of maintaining all federal harbors:

Establishing budget authority to expend the expected $24.5 billion in new HMT revenues collected in the HMTF over the next decade; and
Provide authority to appropriate additional funds for harbor maintenance needs from the existing $9.3 billion balance in the HMTF.

Full utilization of the fund would provide the necessary funding to enable the Corps to dredge all federal harbors to their constructed widths and depths. Properly dredged channels are essential to providing critical access points for marinas and coastal communities where businesses depend on marine recreation-based economic activity. Additionally, without sufficient dredging in small recreation-based ports, some recreational boaters are forced to use high traffic commercial channels, which can lead to potential user conflicts and safety concerns.

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