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PORTS + POLITICS: The Need for Real Federal Investment in Our Nation’s Ports, Harbors and Waterways

The importance of federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure has been forgotten by many. That is why one of my highest priorities this Congress is to pass legislation to permanently unlock the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

* By Peter DeFazio, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure *

We are entering into an exciting new era for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. We’ve expanded our roster to 67 members, making us the largest committee in Congress. Our new and returning members are diverse, creative, and excited to get to work on behalf of the American public. I have no doubt our committee will continue its long history of being one of the most bipartisan in Congress.

Every district in our country is affected by the decisions made in this committee. Our communities and businesses depend on our network of roads, bridges, airports, rail, ports, and public transit to move people and goods safely, whether it is across town, across the country, or internationally. Our families depend on safe, dependable, and resilient infrastructure. And millions of American jobs are directly tied to the state of our infrastructure.

Unfortunately, the importance of federal investment in our nation’s infrastructure has been forgotten by many in Congress. For too long, we have neglected the fundamental infrastructure systems that support our engines of commerce, our economy and our quality of life. We have allowed our highways, railroads, airports, water infrastructure and harbors to fall into disrepair – and have failed to invest in the upgrades and improvements necessary to respond to a changing world.

For example, we continue to struggle, year-after-year, to ensure that sufficient revenues are made available to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to meet the annual dredging needs of our commercial harbors – despite the fact that sufficient revenue is already being collected.

In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for commercial ports from maritime shippers. The HMT is directly levied on importers and domestic shippers and is typically passed along to U.S. taxpayers on the purchase of imported goods or services. The revenue is deposited into a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund within the U.S. Treasury from which Congress appropriates funds to the Corps for harbor maintenance dredging.

The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund collects far more revenues from shippers than Congress has appropriated to the Corps to maintain our harbors. As a result, shippers continue to honor their commitment to pay for promised maintenance activities that the federal government then fails to carry out. To be clear, there are sufficient funds in the trust fund to meet the maintenance dredging needs of all federally-authorized ports. The problem is that these funds, which were collected for this express purpose, have often been diverted to hide the size of the budget deficit.

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