House of Congress budget debate includes discussion on problem of underfunded harbor maintenance
Some detail of the discussion follows:
Unlike the past several years, this year's budget debate included some discussion of the longstanding problem of underfunded harbor maintenance. This recognition of the harbor maintenance issue by the House Budget Committee is a positive small step forward.
The text of H. Con. Res. 112 does not include any specific language related to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF). The Budget Committee report on this legislation includes the following: "In addition, the budget acknowledges the importance of maintaining our ports and waterways to encourage commercial deep-draft navigation and economic competitiveness. In fiscal year 2012, a total of $898 million was appropriated from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund [HMTF], an increase of $109 million over the administration's request. However, there continues to be a large balance in the fund and outstanding harbor maintenance needs."
Rep. Van Hollen offered a substitute amendment to H. Con. Res. 112 as an alternative budget resolution. It would have provided billions of more dollars annually for function 300 (Natural Resources and Environment, which funds Army Corps civil works programs such as harbor maintenance, as well as many other agencies' programs) than the House-passed budget resolution for FYs13-22, but it did not include any provisions dedicating any of that revenue to harbor maintenance.
While the Van Hollen amendment's deficit neutral reserve fund for transportation included harbor maintenance among the reserve fund's several uses, it would not have required the House Appropriations Committee to spend all annual HMTF revenue on harbor maintenance. HMTF revenue is already built into the budget baseline.
Because the reserve fund language requires deficit neutrality, any legislation making HMTF spending mandatory would have to have been offset with new revenues or reductions in other mandatory spending. Enacting Van Hollen's reserve fund provision would not have had any direct effect on H.R.104, the RAMP Act. Supporters of Van Hollen's amendment could legitimately argue that it would be easier for the House Appropriations Committee to fit a harbor maintenance spending increase into Van Hollen's function 300 amount, rather than the House-passed function 300 amount, but neither budget resolution alternative included requirement to do so.
It was considered helpful that both the Chairman and Ranking member of the Budget Committee recognize that there is an economic need for increased harbor maintenance spending.