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June 09, 2014

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GOVERNMENT WATCH INTERNATIONAL | WASHINGTON | CUSTOMS | SECURITY | REGULATION 16 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE JUNE 9.2014 By Mark Szakonyi CONGRESS IS PROMISING to send hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds to ports each year, and to distribute the money more fairly. But if we've learned any thing in Washing ton, just because Congress promises it doesn't mean it will happen. Congressional appropriators, those who hold the purse strings, aren't bound to follow the guidance set forth by the Water Resources Reform Development Act, which President Obama is expected to sign into law soon. Although the bill sets targets for reform- ing the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund so that all the money goes back to ports by fiscal 2025, there is no mandate or trigger to force Congress to back up its goals with dollars, said Paul Bea, principal of maritime consultant PHB Public Affairs. Only half of the $1.8 billion collected in harbor mainte- nance taxes — a 0.125 percent levy of the value of imported cargo — currently goes back to ports, with the rest being used to plug federal budget holes. "The bill doesn't solve the problem (of the misuse of the HMTF), but it does point to the way it could be," Bea said. Amid the port industry's jubilation over potential HMTF reform, a shadow hangs over the soon-be-enacted water resources development bill. It's not unlike the adula- tion when the HMTF was created through passage of the first WRDA bill in 1986, said J. Stanley "Stan" Payne, a principal at man- agement and transportation consulting firm Summit Strategic Partners. At the time, the port industry thought Congress was finally getting serious about funding ports, only to see appropriators siphon money away from the trust fund. And there's no guarantee appropriators will follow the mechanism created through the bill aimed at giving donor ports a fairer share of funding. The bill calls for donor ports to get at least 10 percent of any surplus of the first $800 million allocated annually. Donor ports are defined as those that have collected at least $15 million in HMT dol- lars annually, received less than 25 percent of their collected HMT back in the last five fiscal years and handled more than 2 million TEUs in fiscal 2012. Those same donor ports, including Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle and Tacoma, also could tap into $50 million annually for work other than jetty and dredging main- tenance, work such as berth projects or that deals with dredged material. The pot of money also could fund HMT rebates to shippers, an option attrac- tive to U.S. Pacific Northwest ports that say importers are diverting U.S.-bound cargo through Canadian ports to avoid the tax. But the bill's language suggests the $50 million sum wouldn't come through the HMTF but from some other source, mean- ing appropriators would have to pull the money from general coffers. Supporters are taking some comfort in that Sen. Patty Mur- ray, D-Wash., who pushed for the program for Seattle and Tacoma, chairs the Senate Budget Committee. Although the targets in the bill are spe- cific to channel manintenace funding via the trust fund, the sense of Congress provision FOR PORTS, NO GUARANTEES The next water resources bill may promise more funds and fairness, but that doesn't mean Congress has to deliver

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