President Joe Biden released his FY2022 comprehensive $6 trillion budget proposal, which combines his key priorities, including the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.
A budget is a president’s wish list. It’s up to Congress to consider it, and whether to pass all or part of it, either as a package or in separate bills. That said, what would waterways infrastructure get in the Biden budget?
The Corps of Engineers Civil Works program would get $6.79 billion under the proposed budget. In FY2021, the Corps ended up receiving close to $7.8 billion, thanks to Congress, but this is the biggest presidential budget “ask” ever for the Corps, as the administration pointed out. Of that amount, $2.45 billion is dedicated to commercial navigation, $1.72 billion for flood and storm damage reduction and $501 million for aquatic ecosystem restoration.
In the Construction account, the budget provides $1.89 billion ($1.79 billion from Construction, $62.7 million from Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund [HMTF] and $32.6 million from the Mississippi River and Tributaries account) and four new starts, including the Three Rivers project on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
The budget would lower the benefit cost ratio (BCR) for Corps projects from 2.5 to 1 to 2.0 to 1 or greater with a 7 percent discount rate. As part of the American Jobs Plan proposal, it includes $2 billion over five years for the federal share of coastal navigation construction projects and $780 million for the 65 percent cost share for inland waterways construction projects.
Mississippi River and Tributaries would be given $275 million. The Maritime Administration would receive $1.17 billion, including $10.8 million for Marine Highway Transportation grants to expand the use of the nation’s navigable waters; $230 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program to improve port facilities; and $20 million for Small Shipyard Grants to provide funding for capital and related improvements and/or training.
Many of these proposed items are welcome to our industry individually. But they are part of a humongous package that the New York Times reports “would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II” as a percentage of gross domestic product, while collecting “more tax revenue as a share of the economy than at almost any point in the last century.”
That alone makes it very unlikely to be passed in its current form or anything close to it. Unfortunately, it also includes a lot of individually contentious items that further guarantee prolonged negotiations, and possibly a reliance on continuing resolutions to keep the government running. The closer the 2022 elections loom without a budget agreement, the unlikelier we are to get to one.
We hope that as Congress debates and negotiates this budget, waterways infrastructure projects, and the bipartisan support they engender, don’t get lost in the shuffle.