Source: Journal of Commerce
April 15th 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an unsurprising but welcome move for U.S. ports pursuing major harbor deepening projects, both houses of the U.S. Congress this week pushed forward legislation that would exceed White House and congressional targets for port funding.
Concurrent $6 billion bills moved forward in the Senate and House of Representatives this week, both of which surpass previous years’ appropriation levels, President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2017 and appropriations targets outlined in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
Earlier this year, it became apparent that the White House’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would once again fall short of port-funding targets. President Obama’s $4.1 trillion budget request, unveiled in February, allocated just $951 million for maintaining the country’s deep-draft harbors – 22 percent less than the $1.22 billion appropriated by Congress for the 2016 fiscal year.
On Tuesday and Thursday, bipartisan committees in the House and the Senate passed two $6 billion bills to fund U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Program. Both bills are an increase of roughly $11 million above the funds enacted for fiscal year 2016, as well as nearly $1.4 million above the president’s budget request.
It’s not dissimilar from what occurred last year, after President Obama’s budget request significantly low-balled necessary port funding levels and Congress approved an omnibus appropriations bill that exceeded the White House request.
The House legislation this year allocates $2.7 billion specifically for navigation projects and studies, including $1.26 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and full use of estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
“This funding will go toward important dredging and maintenance projects and will be critical in ensuring our ports are prepared to handle the mega-ships of the future,” longtime port proponent Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Hahn specifically applauded the addition of roughly $1 billion in additional port funding in the bill, a request that she spearheaded with the backing of 121 House colleagues last month.
The Senate legislation, meanwhile, would pour $1.81 billion into the corps’ construction account, roughly $723.65 million more than the president’s request. Like the House bill, the Senate bill also calls for full use of the estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
The corps’ operations and maintenance account would receive a record $3.17 billion under the Senate legislation, $468.83 million more than the White House’s request.
Both bills were widely lauded by the maritime industry and port proponents.
The Waterways Council, a group dedicated to inland waterway freight infrastructure improvement, applauded the Senate committee’s “bipartisan spirit of cooperation” that produced the bill in the upper chamber.
Meanwhile, Hahn called the House bill “yet another victory for ports and the future of the U.S. economy.”