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Maritime Sail-In and Other Activities Aim for Passage of HMTF Legislation

By Judith Powers

Groups lobbying to pass Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund legislation have been active, and there is broad awareness of and enthusiasm for it in Washington, Barry Holliday told IDR.

Holliday is executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) and is spearheading the RAMP (Realize America’s Maritime Promise) initiative to pass legislation requiring that all taxes collected for harbor maintenance are used for that purpose. This includes maintenance dredging of navigation channels.

Since its inception in 1986, the tax has built up a more than $6 billion surplus, as a large proportion of the monies collected annually go into the general fund and not toward harbor maintenance.

To this end, RAMP, with 210 members from the maritime industry, was instrumental in getting two pieces of legislation introduced – H.R. 104 (the RAMP act) with 90 co-sponsors, on January 5 of this year, and S. 412 with 19 co-sponsors, on February 12.

Both bills direct that all taxes collected for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund be used primarily for port and channel maintenance projects, preventing the monies from entering the general fund while there are outstanding maintenance projects.

On May 4, the U.S. Maritime Coalition sponsored the second annual Maritime Industry Congressional Sail-In, with 42 sponsors, including DCA. Industry volunteers gathered in Washington and visited members of Congress to elicit their support for the Maritime Industry and the HMTF bills.

This year 185 people participated, including Barry Holliday and Mark Sickles of DCA, visiting 150 members of Congress or their staffs. This is up from 135 volunteers last year, said Linda Arquette, who took care of logistics for the event. She is executive assistant for government relations at Maersk Inc.

A week later, Arquette was still working on the final report, which will assess the support garnered by the industry’s efforts.

The stated purpose of the Sail-In was “to increase Congressional awareness of the importance of America’s maritime industry to the economic and national security of the United States, and to generate support for the programs and policies important to the survival and growth of the United States-flag merchant marine and to the jobs of American merchant mariners and America’s maritime workforce.

“There were all positive reviews” from the meetings, said Arquette, a good appraisal, despite the fact that since last year’s sail-in, three of the four most important House committee chairmen for maritime issues did not return to the 112th Congress; there are 20 freshmen members on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and more than a dozen members who were visited during last year’s Sail-In did not return to Congress.

Holliday and Sickles used the opportunity to request co-sponsors for the legislation, and Holliday convinced Tim Bishop of New York and possibly Jay Inslee of Washington State to co-sponsor HR104.

DCA Input Included In Meetings

As part of the literature given to the volunteers, DCA provided a handout containing important facts about funding channel maintenance.

Quoting from a letter to the House Budget Committee signed by 36 Representatives, the handout stated: “Spending from the HMTF is used by the Army Corps of Engineers for maintenance of port channels, jetties, breakwaters, and certain locks such as on the St. Lawrence Seaway, as well as for the construction of dredged material disposal areas. However, expenditures for those purposes have lagged behind revenues since the early 1990s and have been only 50 to 60 percent of HMTF annual income since 2005. The HMTF unspent balance was almost $6 billion at the end of FY2010 and is still growing.

“On a more basic level, it is fundamentally wrong for the government to impose a tax for one purpose, only to utilize the proceeds from this tax to fund an entirely different program,” stated the letter.

Also on the document was a statement by Senator Carl Levin, made in February of this year: “The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the nation’s 59 busiest ports are available less than 35 percent of the time because they are inadequately maintained.”

And Congressman Frank LoBiondo said in March: “[Dredging harbors is] one of the areas where spending money will make us money,” quoted on the handout.

Holliday told IDR “I am encouraged both by the leadership, John Mica, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) committee, who said he wants to have a maritime component in his transportation bill, and Congressman (Charles) Boustany, our champion, who is totally committed and enthusiastic about trying to get passage of the bill.”

He included on the DCA handout a statement by Congressmen Boustany and Joe Courtney:

“During this time of economic turmoil, we cannot afford to threaten these water highways that are so important to our nation’s commerce. Supported by a large coalition of ports, exporters, manufacturers, maritime businesses and labor organizations, [this] legislation addresses program-wide funding, not specific projects, and is not considered earmark legislation.”

Asked if anyone had approached House Speaker John Boehner for support of the measure, Holliday said “We have not visited his office, but would refer that role to Boustany, and expect that at some time he will sit down with the Speaker and discuss his plans” for bringing this legislation to a vote.

“We will be discussing the initiative National Dredging Meeting (in Washington D.C., May 24 and 25), have a lot of coalition members included in our dredging members, who have done a great job moving this to where we are today. We did want to bring the Corps up to speed, too,” he said.
Though he is encouraged by the support shown in the House of Representatives, “the Senate is a challenge; we have a lot to to there,” he said.

“We’re facing some dire dredging challenges in the lower Mississippi as well as the rest of the country. It is affecting our economic engine, and we want to get something done as soon as we can,” Holliday concluded.

Letter From The Governors

Keeping the pressure on, RAMP’s next project is seeking the signatures of some state governors on a letter addressed to the House and Senate leaders.

The letter notes that more than 90 percent of all U.S. trade passes through the nation’s ports, and are critical to national security and economic health of the local areas and the nation. It states that the waterways in Mississippi River, Great Lakes and East and West Coast regions have not been adequately maintained, and that adequate maintenance funding is necessary to ensure the economic health of these regions and the nation.

“The Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) were established in 1986 specifically to fund the maintenance of federal ports and harbors. The HMT is charged against the value of imports and domestic cargo arriving at U.S. ports that have federally maintained harbors and channels and is deposited into the HMTF. For many years, however, only one-third to one-half of annual HMTF revenue [has been] expended for harbor maintenance,” the letter states.

“Every year, the backlog of harbor maintenance grows by hundreds of millions of dollars because HMTF revenues are not being used to address the necessary maintenance dredging needed to sustain our essential infrastructure. Failure to maintain these harbors and ports impacts regional and national commerce, reduces our economic competitiveness, and increases the risk of vessel grounding, collisions, and environmental incidents,” the letter continues, and goes on to point out that the Administrations fy2012 budget allocates “only half of the projected $1.6 billion dollars in HMT collections for harbor maintenance.”

Mentioning similar recent legislation that helped the airline industry by more closely tying trust fund expenditures to trust fund revenues, the letter urges Congress to pass H.R. 104 - The Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act - and S. 412 - Harbor Maintenance Act of 2011 to “ensure that annual HMT revenues into the HMTF are used to maintain our ports and harbors and prevent those revenues from being used for unauthorized projects.”

Signatures are being sought by the govenors of the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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