U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced legislation that would ensure funding for federal ports and harbors across the nation. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is an original co-sponsor of the bill. If enacted, the bill would help ensure that all revenue collected by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) would be used for its intended purpose: to properly maintain and operate harbors and ports. The bill has broad bipartisan and multi-regional support, with four Democrats and four Republicans sponsoring the legislation at the time of its introduction. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill.
The HTMF has collected a surplus of $5b over what has been spent for its intended purposes, even as there are great needs for improved harbor infrastructure across the nation. For example, the Army Corps of Engineers estimates there is a backlog of about 15 million cubic yards of dredging needs at commercial federally- authorized Great Lakes harbors and channels. HTMF revenue comes from fees, based on the value of the cargo, paid by shippers that use federal harbors and ports.
Since 2003, there has been a growing gap between the annual amount of revenue deposited into the HMTF and the annual amount of expenditures from the HMTF. Similarly, administration-requested funding levels for harbor maintenance have lagged behind HMTF revenues. Funds that are not spent on HTMF purposes are available for use as general revenue.
If enacted, the legislation would allow any member of Congress to raise a point of order against a spending bill that seeks to use less than the total HMTF projected revenue. If a harbor bill is considered that does not use all of the funding available that year, any member could block the bill to encourage the full expenditure of the funds. The point of order could be overridden with a separate vote.
“By compelling Congress to properly fund harbor and port maintenance, our legislation will improve the commercial viability of our harbors and improve the economy as a whole by allowing for greater efficiency for delivery of shipments that impact every level of our economy,” Levin said. “This bill would simply force the government to use funds for their intended purpose, which will lead to the creation of jobs and the securing of our national transportation infrastructure.”
Levin, Stabenow and Hutchison are joined as sponsors by Sens. David Vitter, R-La., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Mary Landrieu, D-La. The House of Representatives has a companion bill, H.R. 4844, introduced by Reps. Charles Boustany, R-La., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
The HMTF was established in 1986 to fund the operation and maintenance of federal ports and harbors. Expenditures from the HMTF are used by the Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance dredging, dredged material disposal areas, jetties and breakwaters, and to pay for certain St. Lawrence Seaway maintenance costs and Harbor Maintenance Tax collection costs.
The bill is supported by the Lake Carriers Association in the Great Lakes, part of the Realize America’s Maritime Promise/Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Fairness Coalition—which is made up of national vessel operators, cities, public ports, private terminal operators, pilot associations, dredging companies, shipbuilders, maritime labor unions, manufacturers, bulk cargo owners and shippers, and other companies and associations dependent on fully accessible navigation channels.