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Editorial

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) set forth an unprecedented demand for water resources funding, if Congress can work together to pass an adequate budget. One of the cornerstone provisions of the legislation established annual incremental funding targets for the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT), which would lead to full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for its intended purpose by 2025.

Among the supporters of the HMT provision is the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), which led the formation of a coalition of coastal, inland and regional navigation user groups to develop a unified message on funding levels for the Corps of Engineers navigation program, dubbed the “Navigation 1 Number” campaign. Most recently, this included launching the Hit the HMT Target! Campaign, as Congress prepared to pass the FY2016 budget and encourage them to fulfill the obligations set for by WRRDA 2014, which for FY2016 meant 69% of HMT, or $1.25B.

Overall, AAPA supports the intended HMT funding level, as set forth by WRRDA 2014, as well as increasing the coastal navigation construction from the 10-year low amount in the budget request and ensuring adequate funding to complete existing navigation studies in three years. In total, AAPA was advocating for $2.755B in Corps funding for FY16 navigation program.

Many in Congress on both sides of the aisle support WRRDA 2014 and its targets for HMTF levels. In the House of Representatives Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-LA) Janice Hahn (D-CA) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI) among others, led the way to hit the mark on HMT.

H.R. 2028, the U.S. House of Representatives’ fiscal 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations bill included two amendments – one from Huizenga and Hahn, which increased the appropriation for HMT spending by $36.3 million, and another by Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), T&I Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA), and Congressional Port Caucus Co-Chair Ted Poe (R-TX) ensured that the expenditures from the Corps of Engineers O&M budget account complied with the intent of the WRRDA 2014.

The House E&W bill proposed to fund the Corps of Engineers Civil Works program at $5.6B ($142 million over the level funded in FY2015 and $865 million over the request amount outlined in President Obama’s FY2016 budget request.) The proposed funding for the Corps navigation program would be $2.4B, approximately $50 million above FY2015 funding level. (Last year’s budget legislation was nicknamed the “Cromnibus Appropriations” because the last minute legislation before a midnight deadline combined the traditional sweeping scope of an omnibus spending bill with a continuing resolution, which appropriates funding to specific federal government departments.) On April 29, the House passed the amendment.

On May 21, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development approved the FY2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill on a 26-4 vote. The bill would provide a total of $5.5B for the Corps of Engineers; an increase of $45 million above the FY15 enacted level and $768 million above the President’s requested budget. Navigation projects and studies would get $2.5B, including $1.254B from HMTF, and 11.96 percent increase over FY2015 appropriations. This also met the amount outlined in WRRDA 2014.

“AAPA appreciates the leadership of Senators Cochran (R-MS), Mikulski (D-MD), Alexander (R-TN), Feinstein (D-CA), Shelby (R-AL) and Murray (D-WA) in advancing legislation that brings our nation’s funding decisions in line with the provisions of WRRDA 2014,” said Kurt Nagle, AAPA president and CEO.

Let’s just hope the Senate can bring the legislation to a full vote and eventually, come to a compromise with the House, before another end of the year midnight deadline.

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