New Trump budget cuts Civil Works funding, proposes new users fee

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The following is text of a news release from the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI):

(WASHINGTON) — The fiscal year 2019 budget request to Congress released by President Trump on Monday proposes to cut more than 22 percent of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works funding, at $4.78 billion, down from the FY 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee’s funding level of $6.16 billion.

For the Corps’ construction account, $1.02 billion was requested, reduced from the FY 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee’s funding level of $1.7 billion.

The FY 2019 budget requests $5.25 million of the $114 million collected in 2017 from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) with only the Olmsted project to be funded (at $35 million to completion). The budget estimates that the IWTF will collect $104 million in FY 2019. The balance in the IWTF is estimated to grow to $340 million, if this budget is followed. Work at the other three priority navigation projects under construction  – Lower Mon, Kentucky Lock and Chickamauga Lock – would cease and workers would be laid off  if the budget is accepted.

The FY 2019 budget proposes a new user fee on inland waterways. The proposal would establish a vessel user fee to supplement existing revenue from the 29-cent-per-gallon diesel fuel tax to help finance the users' share of anticipated capital investment projects, as well as 10 percent of the cost of operations and maintenance (O&M) activities on the inland waterways, historically a federal responsibility. This proposal would raise approximately $1.7 billion over a 10-year window. 

The FY 2019 budget proposes $2.07 billion for O&M, a cut from the FY 2018 Senate Appropriations Committee funding level of $3.52 billion ($760 million would go toward inland waterways).

Also, the president’s budget request for FY 2019 would reduce, by $500 million, the Harbor Maintenance Tax rate, from $1.6 billion collected into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund currently to around $1.1 billion “to better align estimated annual receipts from the tax with recent appropriation levels for eligible expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Reducing this tax would provide greater flexibility for individual ports to establish appropriate fee structures for services they provide, in order to help finance their capital and operating expenses on their own,” according to the budget documents.

“This dour FY 2019 budget represents a clear disconnect from the encouraging rhetoric made by President Trump about the inland waterways in the State of Union address and at his historic visit to the Ohio River in June 2017,” said WCI President and CEO Mike Toohey. “If accepted, this budget, like the infrastructure proposal issued earlier today, hamstrings America’s ability to compete in the world."

By Professional Mariner Staff