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Funds Exist to Perform Vital Service to U.S. Ports But 30% Spending Cut Looms

From the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition
August 20, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 20, 2012 – A potential economic storm is brewing around the nation’s ports and harbors because Congress may not adequately finance vital dredging programs even though there are more than sufficient funds available.

“America already faces a severe dredging crisis that undermines the effectiveness of our nation’s transportation system,” said Ed Wolking, director of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition and executive vice president of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Reducing funding by nearly 30% in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 will make a bad situation worse and perhaps far worse.”

Congress is now considering a six month continuing spending resolution that would fund the federal government at the same level in FY 2013 as was funded in FY 2012.

“Because of the national dredging crisis, dredging has received approximately one-quarter of its funding each of the last three years through emergency supplemental bills,” Wolking said. “If the continuing resolution funding level is set without the supplemental funding, it will mean a massive cut.”

Wolking estimates that dredging funding is thus facing a 30% cut.

A reduction in funding for dredging could be particularly damaging in the Great Lakes region, which depends upon shipping to help maintain and grow its massive regional economy – which generates 27% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

What’s particularly frustrating is that dredging – a vital maintenance procedure that is necessary to allow cargo-laden ships to reach and exit America’s ports – could pay for itself. Revenues from fees on cargo shippers called the Harbor Maintenance Tax are designed to be used to pay for dredging, but the tax brings in far more than is spent.  The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will soon have a surplus of $8 billion.

“America’s fragile economic recovery will take on water if imported and exported goods can’t be shipped to our nation’s ports because of inadequate dredging,” Wolking said.  “This potential calamity should not be occurring – the money is there to pay for dredging that is needed to keep our ports functioning.  All Americans – and many jobs – rely upon an uninterrupted flow of shipping.”

“We fully understand the need for fiscal prudence, but in this case it makes no sense to cut the budget of a program that is capable of completely paying for itself,” Wolking said.

About the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition

The Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition consists of more than 30 chambers of commerce, including the Detroit Regional Chamber, representing more than 150,000 businesses.  The coalition is dedicated to forging and growing a strategic partnership between the Great Lakes region and the federal government.  The Great Lakes region has one fifth of the world’s fresh water, 27% of the U.S. population and produces an estimated gross domestic product of $3.6 trillion.

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