The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA)—the unified and collective voice of America’s seaports—hailed news that Congress has completed negotiations on the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that authorizes water resources projects and makes important program improvements. That bill includes a Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HTMF) provision with language to reform the way the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) is spent.
The HMT is collected on the value of imports, certain domestic cargo and on cruise passengers. The tax was created to fund 100 percent of operations and maintenance costs of federal navigation channels. Annual HMT collections, plus unspent collections from previous years and all accumulated interest, make up the HMTF.
AAPA President and CEO Christopher J. Connor said, “AAPA is very pleased to see the 2020 WRDA getting finalized, especially the HMTF provision – the culmination of years of effort by our association, our members and many of our stakeholders and partners. AAPA sincerely appreciates the efforts of House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), along with Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), for their leadership and pursuit of the HMTF solution, and we’re urging swift Congressional passage.”
Among the HMTF elements in the 2020 WRDA are three of the four HMT “pillars” for which AAPA has steadfastly advocated: 1) increased funding and expanded uses for HMT “donor” ports (ones with naturally deep channels that require little to no traditional maintenance); 2) funding assurances for Great Lakes port and harbor projects; 3) and funding assurances for projects in “emerging harbors” (those handling fewer than 1 million tons of cargo per year).
AAPA’s remaining HMT “pillar” – full spending of the prior year’s HMT annual revenues – was addressed earlier this year in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed on March 27, with the HMT provision taking effect on Jan. 1, 2021. But the 2020 WRDA expands this to include the roughly $9.3 billion of unspent tax collections in the HMTF – a major expansion to address the significant backlog of navigation maintenance needed in harbors throughout the country.
“Making all designated revenue available from the HMTF is a giant plus to provide for proper navigation maintenance nationwide,” Mr. Connor emphasized. “It’ll also ensure safe and efficient freight movement to continue America’s leadership position in global trade, grow our economy and increase jobs that pay family-supporting wages.”
Additionally in the 2020 WRDA, Congress has included a funding floor for ports in the National Port Readiness Network (the nation’s 17 militarily-strategic commercial ports), consistent with their historic share of annual HMT appropriations.
The House appears poised to vote on the 2020 WRDA legislation this week. No plans have been announced yet for the Senate. AAPA urges support for getting this legislation passed before the end of the year.