Omnibus bill holds the line on funding for Army Corps, Seaway

The following is the text of a news release from the American Great Lakes Ports Association (AGLPA):

(WASHINGTON) — On Monday, Congress unveiled a final agreement on the fiscal year 2017 federal budget. The so-called Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 sets final spending levels for most federal agencies and finalizes spending levels for several programs of importance to Great Lakes ports.

What is this?

Each year, Congress is supposed to enact 12 separate appropriations bills, each funding a different part of the federal government. These bills are supposed to be enacted by Sept. 30. The new federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Having failed to pass these bills, on Sept. 28 and Dec.10 and April 28, Congress passed a so-called continuing resolution (CR) which simply extends federal funding for each agency at current levels. By enacting a CR, Congress is essentially keeping the government open and operating, but not making any new budget decisions. The current CR expires this Friday. Thus, Congress needs to either enact a new CR or finalize the FY 2017 appropriation bills by then. The measure unveiled Monday finalizes FY 2017 spending levels by rolling the various appropriation bills into one large legislative package.

Corps budget "hits the target"

The AGLPA was pleased to learn Monday that final spending levels in the Army Corps of Engineers' budget will hit the funding target established in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. As you may recall, WRRDA lays out a 10-year plan (between 2015-25) for Congress to incrementally ratchet up spending on the Corps' operation and maintenance activities. In the Great Lakes these activities include dredging of navigation channels, repair of jetties and breakwaters, and operation and repair of the Soo Locks. The FY 2017 target is $1.29 billion. The omnibus appropriations bill provides $1.31 billion and exceeds the target. This is the third year that Congress has hit the target and stuck to the spending plan enacted in 2014. Year after year of small increases should eventually lead to full use of all Harbor Maintenance Tax revenue, a key policy goal of Great Lakes ports.

Seaway budget fully funded

The omnibus appropriations legislation also finalizes the FY 2017 budget for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. (SLSDC). The agency was fully funded at $36 million, the amount requested last year by the Obama administration. These funds will not only provide for regular operation of the Snell and Eisenhower locks, but will also implement another year of the agency's long-term Asset Renewal Program.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded

Congress has fully funded the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $300 million for FY 2017. As you may recall, the Trump administration had called for elimination of the program. Great Lakes ports strongly support GLRI, which to date has invested over $2 billion to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes. By fully funding the program, Congress is clearly signaling that it does not agree with the White House's budget priorities. Nevertheless, Great Lakes interests will have to lobby aggressively in the future to keep the program funded.

Next steps

It is important to note that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 has not yet been enacted. The House and Senate will vote on the measure this week and the president is expected to sign it by Friday.

By Professional Mariner Staff