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Waterways Groups Savage ‘Astonishingly Inadequate’ Budget Proposal

Inland waterways stakeholders reacted strongly to President Donald Trump’s proposed 2021 budget, which contains no money at all for construction of ongoing priority navigation projects cost-shared with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). The proposed budget also cuts funding for the Corps of Engineers’ civil works mission by 22 percent.

The proposed budget is extremely unlikely to pass Congress in its current form; Congress has ignored Trump’s past several budgets to add money to Corps funding.

Waterways Council Inc. called the proposed budget “astonishingly inadequate” and said it would “gut the waterways,” noting that it cuts Corps civil works funding by $1.7 billion from the FY20 enacted levels

“Last fiscal year (FY20), Congress appropriated $335 million for four IWTF-funded projects under construction on the inland waterways system, enabling efficient funding for Kentucky Lock, Chickamauga Lock, and funding to completion for Olmsted Locks and Dam and the Lower Mon Project (Pennsylvania). If the president’s FY21 budget is accepted, these construction projects would shut down for one fiscal year, workers would be laid off, and costs would increase when the projects are restarted.”

To add insult to injury, WCI said, the budget also proposes $1.8 million in new users’ fees on commercial waterways operators, while not making use of operators’ existing contributions to the IWTF.

The FY21 budget also seeks new appropriations language for the Harbor Maintenance and Inland Waterways Trust Funds, to “provide greater transparency in how these funds are spent. Establishing separate appropriations accounts for the navigation trust funds would improve accountability, ensure appropriations are used for the purpose and at the level which the Congress intended, and increase transparency for the public, including the users that pay fees to finance some of these costs,” according to the president’s budget.

‘Where Is The Shame?’

“While the president’s FY21 budget represents the administration’s priorities, WCI is extremely disappointed and absolutely astonished at no investment in rebuilding the nation’s critical inland waterways transportation system. No president has ever proposed zero infrastructure investment. Are we to lay off the workers constructing the projects now underway? Where is the .29-cents-per-gallon fuel tax money that users pay going, while the administration seeks $180 million in additional annual fees with no plans to spend it? Where is the shame?” said WCI President/CEO Mike Toohey.

“Infrastructure investment is critical to America’s competitive edge and this budget, if left to stand, would gut the waterways as a viable transportation option for our nation’s family farmers and other shippers of key commodities. The budget will hopefully be considered dead on arrival in Congress, and I will offer to members of the House and Senate to provide the shovel and the preacher,” Toohey said

Programs Targeted, Ports Concerned

The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) led its response with a positive note, saying it “welcomed support in President Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget for two vital U.S. Department of Transportation competitive infrastructure grant initiatives, known as BUILD and INFRA.” Unlike the inland waterways, the budget proposes a 20 percent increase in construction funding, for the Corps coastal navigation program, a 10 percent rise compared to Trump’s FY20 budget request. While AAPA acknowledges this increase, it said the amount is still nearly 40 percent less than FY20’s appropriated level.

However, the association registered “strong concerns over significant declines to other federally funded, port-related programs when compared against this year’s appropriation funding levels.”

“We’re very apprehensive about the president’s fiscal 2021 budget,” said Chris Connor, AAPA president and CEO. “Adequate federal investments into U.S. port-related infrastructure, on the landside and the waterside, are crucial for the safe, efficient movement of goods so the nation can remain globally competitive, and this budget doesn’t get us there.”

The budget proposes to eliminate Department of Transportation’s Port Intermodal Infrastructure Program (PIIP), which began as the Port Infrastructure Development Grants program in FY19. By the end of this fiscal year, the PIIP will have awarded more than $500 million in grants to improve the safety, efficiency, and reliability of multimodal movement through our nation’s seaports.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Port Security Grants Program (PSGP), which Congress last funded at $100 million, would also be eliminated if the President’s budget were implemented.

Cuts to DERA

Additionally, President Trump has proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget by 31 percent. EPA’s budget funds the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants, which would be slashed by 89 percent from FY20 enacted levels. “These grants have proven helpful in decreasing port-related diesel emissions in near-port communities and have helped ports to make investments in clean diesel equipment that have resulted in reduced air emissions at the ports themselves,” the AAPA said.

“We live in an interconnected world, and overseas trade…99 percent of which moves through ports…is absolutely vital to our economy,” said Connor. “Federal investments into port-related infrastructure, security and environmental programs pay huge dividends in terms of economic growth, good American jobs and supporting activities that generate sizable tax revenues. AAPA will be working with Congress on behalf of its members to meet and exceed FY20 appropriation levels for fiscal 2021 funding of all port-related federal programs.”

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