WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) co-sponsored bipartisan legislation introduced today by U.S. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan that will ensure crucial maintenance is performed on our nation’s ports so commerce can continue to flow unimpeded supporting millions of jobs. The Harbor Maintenance Act of 2011 requires that all funds collected by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) be used for costs to maintain and repair harbors and ports, and not diverted to unrelated initiatives.
“It is vital to both our state and national economy that our ports are properly maintained. Each year our Texas ports have more than 500 million tons of cargo pass through them,” Sen. Hutchison said. “This flow supports over 1 million Texan jobs and accounts for more than $135 billion in economic value. To maintain their vitality we must ensure that money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is only spent on projects that will keep our ports up to date and able to support America as vibrant channels of commerce.”
“Texas ports channel billions of dollars in revenue into our local and national economy and provide more than a million jobs in Texas alone. This legislation will ensure revenue from taxes levied on importers and domestic shippers is not redirected from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, but is instead spent as intended on needed repairs and dredging at our ports and harbors—which are currently under-maintained. Keeping our ports and harbors operating smoothly and safely is essential to our economic and energy security and I hope my colleagues will join me in passing this common sense bill.” Sen. Cornyn said.
The HMTF was created in 1986 to provide a stable, long-term source of funding to pay for maintenance costs for federally maintained harbors. The concept was that taxes would be imposed on users of the system, particularly shippers of goods passing through those harbors. The revenues from users would be placed in the HMTF, where it would be used promptly and exclusively for harbor maintenance.
While HMTF revenue has steadily increased, harbor maintenance appropriations since 2003 have stagnated, resulting in a growing backlog of critical harbor maintenance. Because the revenues and expenditures of the HMTF are part of the overall budget, if the trust fund does not spend all of its revenues, the “surplus” helps offset deficits in the rest of the general budget.
The HMTF legislation sponsored by Senator Hutchison includes a guarantee that requires that the total amount appropriated from the HMTF each year be equal to the trust fund receipts plus interest as estimated by the President’s budget for that year. If an appropriations bill spending HMTF revenue that does not meet this requirement is brought to the House or Senate, any member would be able to make a point of order against it and the bill would not be allowed to be considered in that form without an overriding vote on specifically spending less than the projected annual HMTF revenue and interest.