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The Impact Of Proposed "Barge Tax"

For inland waterways, the "barge tax" has become a potential Achilles heel. At the level recommended by the Clinton Administration, it could mortally wound the waterways industry just as surely as the arrow which pierced Achilles' vulnerable heel. Earlier this year, the President urged that the fuel tax, now 17 cents a gallon, be increased to $1.20 a gallon. In addition, the proposed BTU tax would have added another 10 cents to the total.

Waterway interests, including the National Waterways Conference, immediately launched an all-out campaign to head off the tax. Our counter-attack took a variety of forms.

- The Conference prepared a series of authoritative fact sheets, showing how the proposed $l-pergallon tax would affect interior regions, tributary waterways, industry and agricultural sectors, export trade, and the barge industry. We wanted to get the facts out as soon as possible.

- With the help of consultants, we developed more specialized fact sheets on affected industries, starting with coal and agriculture, which had the most at stake in the user tax fight.

- The Conference then received a coalition of waterway interests which we originally set up in 1977 during the Congressional debate over the first waterway fuel tax. Our National Waterways Alliance includes representatives, most of them based in Washington, of some 175 waterway- related associations and industries. At meetings held every couple of weeks, we shared information and insights and discussed strategy. - Working with navigation proponents in the Congress, we helped with a number of "Dear Colleague" letters and joint letters addressed to the President, Cabinet Secretaries and Congressional Committee chairmen. We also framed responses to a number of issues raised by Administration spokespeople in support of the new inland waterways tax. - Upon request from members of Congress, other public officials, and industry leaders, we prepared speeches, statements, testimony, and resolutions in opposition to the proposed $l-per-gallon fuel tax.

Some of these materials later made a splash in the press.

- We conducted an aggressive campaign in the media pointing out flaws in the fuel tax proposal. Conference officers were frequently interviewed in leading publications and on radio, including National Public Radio. We distributed several opposite-editorial page ("op-ed") columns, one of which was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service.

- Conference officials made a number of speeches and testified before Congressional committees, emphasizing the magnitude of the fuel tax, its probable impact on river valley economies, and its potential role in dismantling the inland waterway system as it now exists.

Through the National Waterways Alliance, we coordinated our efforts with other organizations such as the National Grain and Feed Association, National Coal Association, National Industrial Transportation League, and American Waterways Operators. Working closely together, we were able to marshal our resources and cover more bases than ordinarily would have been possible. At the National Waterways Conference's forthcoming 1993 annual meeting, two separate panel discussions will examine the fuel tax proposal. The first will deal with the basic issue: whether the Federal government should recover 100 percent of the expenditures attributed Harry N. Cook to the operation and maintenance (O & M) of shallow-draft navigation channels.

Dr. G. Edward Dickey, acting assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works), will present the case for full O & M recovery. Christopher J.

Brescia of St. Louis, president of the Midwest Area River Coalition (MARC-2000), will discuss the public value of the Federal investment in navigation O & M programs. The second user tax panel will examine the prospective impacts of such taxation. Dr. Robert N.

Stearns of Dr. Dickey's office will contend that the impacts are relatively minor, but Timothy R.

Murphy of Mercer Management Consulting (formerly Temple, Barker & Sloane, Inc.) believes coal, chemical and agricultural sectors could suffer.

The waterway fuel tax will remain a lively issue, regardless of what Congress does this year. On May 27, the House of Representatives approved an increase of 50 cents a gallon, and on June 25, the U.S. Senate deleted the tax - sending the entire revenue package to a House-Senate conference, which is to report later this summer.

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