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Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act Advances

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By The Maritime Executive 10-29-2019 08:14:43

The Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, H.R. 2440, advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives on October 28. 

The vote was 296 in favor and 109 opposed.  The voting required a two-thirds super majority of the House in order to pass under “suspension of the rules.”

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) says the legislation would enable Congress to appropriate $34 billion over the next decade to restore America’s federal navigation channels to their originally-constructed widths and depths.

AAPA’s President & CEO, Chris Connor, says: “The legislation will stop the diversion of HMTF payments and provide a means for Congress to spend down the more than $9 billion that has been diverted in previous years.” 

William P. Doyle, Chief Executive Officer of Dredging Contractors of America, said: “Where the government collects taxes from taxpayers, and that tax is codified into federal law to be used for a specific purpose, then the tax must be used for that specific purpose. It’s very simple. The Harbor Maintenance Tax receipts are collected from shippers and are to be used for harbor maintenance dredging.”

In 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) to recover the operation and maintenance dredging costs for commercial ports from maritime shippers. The HMT is directly levied on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or inland ports as a 0.125 percent ad valorem tax on the value of imported cargo (e.g., $1.25 per $1,000 value) and is typically passed along to U.S. taxpayers on the purchase of imported goods or services. 

These revenues are deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund within the U.S. Treasury from which Congress currently appropriates funds to the Corps for harbor maintenance dredging. Currently, what is collected and what is spent on harbor maintenance is not the same according to the House T&I Committee.

In April 2019, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), Chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Subcommittee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR), and Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) introduced the Full Utilization of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act.

House passage of this bill is a major milestone towards full Congressional HMT legislation enactment. The next action lies with the Senate, where the Environment and Public Works Committee is anticipated to release initial HMT legislative language in the next few weeks, as part of developing their Water Resources Development Act bill.