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Bills to Firewall Harbor Maintenance Funds Introduced with Bi-Partisan Support

On April 15, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced S.3213 - the Harbor Maintenance Act of 2010, a bill to ensure that amounts credited to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for harbor maintenance, and ensure funding for federal ports and harbors across the nation.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is an original co-sponsor of the bill, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill. Other original sponsors are Sens. David Vitter, R-La., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The Senate bill was introduced one month after a similar bill, H.R. 4844, was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Charles Boustany, R- LA and Bart Stupak, D- MI to “ensure that amounts credited to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for harbor maintenance.”

On April 14, Reps. Boustany, Stupak and Laura Richardson, D-Calif. Sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the other House members, urging them to co-sponsor the bill. The letter said, in part: “…the HMTF has a balance of approximately $5.1 billion; yet this funding is not being used to address the backlog of necessary maintenance dredging needed to sustain our vital infrastructure.”

As a result of this letter and also energetic aggrandizement by dredging and other waterway interests led by Barry Holliday, executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA), as of May 10 there were 11 Senator co-sponsors and 32 House co-sponsors of the legislation.

BI-PARTISAN SUPPORT IN BOTH HOUSES
Senate co-sponsors of S. 3213 are: Sherrod Brown, D - OH; Susan Collins, R - ME; John Cornyn, R - TX; Kay Hutchison, R - TX; Amy Klobushar, D-MN; Mary Landrieu, D - LA; Richard Shelby, R - AL; Debbie Ann Stabenow, D - MI; David Vitter, R - LA; Ron Wyden, D-OR; and George Voinovich, R - OH.

House co-sponsors of H.R. 4844 are Rodney Alexander, R, LA; Jo Bonner, R, AL; Robert Brady, D, PA; Henry Brown, R, SC; Charles Boustany, R, LA; Ken Calvert, R, CA; Anh Cao, R, LA; Lois Capps, D, CA; Bill Cassidy, R, LA; Joe Courtney, D, CT; Ander Crenshaw, R, FL; John Culberson, R, TX; John Fleming, R, LA; Raymond (Gene) Green, D, TX; Steve Kagen, D, WI; Jack Kingston, R, GA; Michael McCaul, R, TX; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R, WA; Charles Melancon, D, LA; Jeff Miller, R-FL; Pete Olson, R, TX; Solomon Ortiz, D-TX; William Owens, D, NY; Bill Pascrell, D-NJ; Ronald Paul, R, TX; Laura Richardson, D, CA; Steve Scalise, R, LA; Michael Simpson, R, ID; Bart Stupak, D, MI; Betty Sutton, D, OH; Lynn Woolsey, D-CA; and David Wu, D, OR.

Barry Holliday was invited to address the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee regarding “Proposals for a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2010, Part II” on April 15, coincidentally on the same day the Senate bill was introduced. His testimony included information on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund as well as the need for a WRDA bill, which would authorize federal water projects, but does not contain funding language. (See text for his testimony on page 30 of this issue.)

CONFERENCE CALL EXPLAINED BILLS
On April 22, Holliday conducted a conference call to explain the bill and answer questions about it. With regard to the $5.1 billion balance, he explained that this amount is not what is available, but what has been collected since the fund was established in 1986. Rather, the bills would ensure that all future funds collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax on imports and domestic cargo arriving at U.S. ports would be used to maintain federal harbors and channels.

The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that there is a backlog of about 15 million cubic yards of dredging needed at commercial federally-authorized Great Lakes harbors and channels alone.

In a statement by Senators Levin and Stabenow announcing the bill’s introduction, they state “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.

SOME ELEMENTS OF SENATE BILL
“Funds that are not spent on HMTF 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.

“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 said.

“The Great Lakes are a vital part of the Michigan way of life,” said Stabenow. “It is imperative that we guarantee that our harbors and ports are properly maintained by expanding and sustaining their capacity while also ensuring the safety of those who use them. This legislation will ensure that our Great Lakes are protected.”

The HMTF was established in 1986 to fund the operation and maintenance of federal ports and harbors.

Expenditures from the HMTF are meant to be 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 (RAMP) 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.

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