Thank you all for joining us for this morning’s joint hearing of the Subcommittees on Oversight and Select Revenue Measures. Today’s hearing will take a closer look at the underfunding of the Nation’s maritime transportation infrastructure, the Harbor Maintenance Tax and Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and the tax treatment of foreign shipping operations.
The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund was created in 1986 to provide a stable long-term source of funding to pay maintenance costs in federally maintained harbors. The tax is imposed on users of the system, particularly shippers of goods passing through those harbors. The revenues, which total as much as $1.3-1.6 billion annually, are placed in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and exist to fund harbor maintenance costs.
In the past decade, we have seen growing disparities between Harbor Maintenance Tax revenues and spending. Because the revenues and expenditures of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are part of the overall budget, if the Trust Fund does not spend all of its revenues, the “surplus” goes toward offsetting unrelated spending.
As a result, chronic underfunding of critical harbor maintenance has occurred. The uncommitted balance in the Trust Fund continues to grow, reaching $6.1 billion at the beginning of FY12. This means that there are billions of unused dollars belonging to the trust fund even though there are significant harbor maintenance needs. Because of this underfunding, the full channel dimensions of America’s busiest ports are available only a third of the time and there are increased risks of groundings and collisions.
To combat the chronic underfunding of federally-maintained waterways I have introduced H.R. 104 – The Realize America’s Maritime Promise (RAMP) Act. The bill requires that the total amount available for spending from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund each year be equal to the Trust Fund receipts plus interest as estimated by the President’s budget for that year. This will ensure that taxes paid into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will be used for their intended purposes and not for other spending.
As we strive toward economic growth and job creation, we must recognize the importance of our maritime infrastructure. The President has set a goal of doubling American exports by 2015. If we are to achieve this goal, we must have the infrastructure to handle increased maritime traffic.
This isn’t just a Mississippi or Calcasieu River problem, nor is it exclusively a Great Lakes problem – this is a nationwide transportation and economic problem. We ought to be spending these user fees on projects that improve our Nation’s critical transportation infrastructure and make the American economy more competitive.
As Congress begins consideration of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill this week, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today about their ports, businesses, and communities and what changes are needed to bolster American jobs and competitiveness.