Congress Makes Long Sought-for Changes to Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund
It took a pandemic for Congress to finally make a change to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund long sought by the liquid terminals industry and a large multi-industry coalition. The changes would allow the full amount of deposits to the fund collected each year to be used to finance dredging of coastal and inland harbors and ports. The provision was tucked inside the expansive $2.2 trillion emergency aid package that was passed by Congress earlier this month.
Known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the legislation provides an array of assistance, such as loans to airlines and hotels, food aid, cash payments for many Americans and free COVID-19 testing. But the measure also provided an opportunity for lawmakers to push through favored projects that had not yet passed Congress, such as changes to the HMTF.
The provision states that any appropriations from the trust fund for the Corps of Engineers will be exempt from federal budgetary caps up to the amount of revenue received into the trust fund during the previous fiscal year—an estimated $1.8 billion—and in future years. Unfortunately, it would not apply to a backlog of $9.3 billion that has already been collected and sits unspent in the fund. That is a fight for another day.
Since 1990, the HMTF has been subject to discretionary funding caps that allowed only a portion of the revenue collected from an ad valorem tax on internal cargo transported between two coastal ports, or on cargo arriving at U.S. ports, to be spent on dredging harbor and ports to their authorized depths and widths.
The CARES Act language will help enable the Corps to address harbor maintenance needs resulting in safer and more efficient cargo movement that will benefit the nation’s consumers, retailers, manufacturers and farmers.
Requiring that fees already collected by the federal government are used for their intended purpose—to ensure our ports and harbors are fully operational—will help ensure our ports and harbors are fully maintained and that our nation can quickly recover once this outbreak is contained and business activities resume in earnest.