Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Janice Hahn, D- Calif., whose district includes the Port of Los Angeles, is protesting a cut in spending on ports that President Obama has proposed in his fiscal year 2016 budget blueprint.
Obama’s budget request would cut Army Corps of Engineers budget authority for money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund from $1.1 billion in FY2015 to $915 million in FY2016, nearly a 17 percent reduction.
Obama’s number is short of the FY2016 target of $1.32 billion Congress authorized in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which Obama signed last June.
Hahn said Tuesday that she hadn’t yet had a conversation with administration officials, so she doesn’t know what rationale they have for the proposed cut.
The money going into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund comes from a tax on importers and domestic shippers who use coastal or Great Lakes ports.
According to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, prior to WRRDA each year only about half of the $1.8 billion paid into the fund for maintenance and dredging of ports was being used for those purposes.
WRRDA directed that spending from the fund increase each year, so that by FY 2025, 100 percent of the money being collected would go toward port dredging and maintenance.
Hahn said that the fund has about an $8 billion surplus.
A Congressional Research Service report in 2011 said that because the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “is not a separate, or ‘off-budget,’ account within the federal budget, the ‘surplus’ in the HMTF has in effect already been spent on general government activities.”
“Any time budget bureaucrats are looking for money, looking for a place to use money for other purposes, this is a very attractive fund,” Hahn said.
But she said in WRRDA Congress in a bipartisan way decided to return the money to the ports.
“We laid out a very reasonable, common-sense goal of increasing what we’re spending every year,” she said.
“We had a nice progression of goals that we were targeting every year. The president’s budget decreases what we’re spending every year and in fact in 2025 is only proposing that 30 percent of all the money we collect would be returned to the ports.”
“I just came back from the Panama Canal,” Han said, “and it’s clear that by next year those post-Panamax ships, those big ones that are carrying 13,000 TEUs [20-foot equivalent units, a measure of maritime cargo capacity based on standard 20-foot-long containers ] are going to coming through the canal.”
“If our ports, particularly our East Coast ports, are not dredged to the level that they need to be, we’re going to miss out on a huge global competitive opportunity,” she said. “This Harbor Maintenance Tax is exactly for that purpose, to dredge and maintain our harbors.”