2014, which is a record high but still
about $600 million short of the
annual collections. Congress has not
yet passed a final Energy and Water
Development spending bill for the
new fiscal year, starting Oct. 1.
The maritime industry has been
pushing for Congress to enact a
“spending guarantee” to ensure the
surplus is spent. Some harbor
channels are reportedly not being
maintained at their authorized
depth and width, while harbors
primarily used by fishing vessels or
recreational ships have complained
that dredging has been insufficient.
Using all of the funds, however,
has been complicated by the mandatory budget caps currently in place
for federal discretionary spending.
Spending more from the trust fund
would mean reducing available
funding for other Energy and Water
Development activities, according to
the Congressional Research Service.
The Senate’s Water Resources
Development Act, which the chamber approved in May, addressed that
issue by requiring Congress to ramp
up spending in the trust fund gradually over the next several years
and, by 2020, spending the entire
yearly collection. The bill has not
yet passed the House.
“Setting expenditures at the
level of HMT revenue would give
our ports and harbors the reliable
funding source they need to keep
our navigation channels open and
our economy moving forward,”
the AFL-CIO said in a May 14 letter to senators.
The Murray-Cantwell bill seeks
to address that issue by making
those funds fully available. The bill
also would set aside a portion of the
fee to be used at low-use, remote
and subsistence harbors that often
are at a competitive disadvantage
for federal funding. And the senators want to create a competitive
grant program using a percentage of
the user fees to improve the U.S.
The bill has the support of ports
in Washington and Oregon, as well
as the Pacific Northwest Water-
ways Association, which said in a
July 1 letter to Washington’s con-
gressional delegation that the
reforms are “vital to our ongoing
“We must reform the Harbor
Maintenance Tax so that Washing-
ton businesses can continue to grow
their success in the global market-
place,” according to the letter,
which was signed by business, gov-
ernment, labor and community
leaders across the state.
The American Association of
Port Authorities (AAPA), which is
an alliance of U.S., Canadian,
Latin American and Caribbean
ports, has not yet taken a stance
on the bill. But the effects on
Canadian and Mexican ports could
make the bill a tricky political
issue for the group.
An AAPA spokesman said it likely would come up at the organization’s annual meeting in October.
With the Senate’s fall agenda
already crowded with deficit
spending and other issues, it could
be months, or longer, before the
chamber gives the legislation any
Murray and Cantwell’s best bet
may be to attach their bill as an
amendment to another related
piece of moving legislation during
this Congress, which also could
Indeed, Cantwell said she
already has asked the Senate
Finance Committee, of which she
is a member, to consider reforming
the HMT as part of any broader
But any tax measure is itself
fraught with political hurdles —
and has dim prospects for passage
— in a Congress sharply divided
over the issue.
More Rough Waters
Ahead for LCS Program
As across-the-board sequester cuts
threaten to hit the Defense Depart-
“I’m not going to lie to you. If we don’t get a fix — if we don’t
get the folks that I work with ... to stop being Democrats and
Republicans and put our country first, it’s going to be worse
in this coming year.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Speaking to shipyard workers at BAE Systems in Norfolk, Va., about the possibility that deep cuts in shipyard contracts that were avoided in 2013 may come into
play in 2014 because partisan feuding in Washington has blocked any agreement
on budgets and the country’s growing national debt.
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Sept. 8
“Continuing resolutions discourage you from trying something
new and bold. You’re supposed to tread water. And science
is very badly served by that tread-water message.”
Dr. Francis Collins
Director of the National Institutes of Health
On how sequestration and budget uncertainty are impacting offices that are
dependent on federal financing.
New York Times, Sept. 4