WCI: Trump's barge user fee could raise shipping prices

(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration’s budget proposal for a new user fee on commercial barge owners operating on the inland waterways could disproportionately raise shipping prices for communities along the Mississippi River, the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) told Bloomberg BNA.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposes to establish an “annual fee” on inland commercial waterways traffic to fund waterway projects relating to construction, operation, maintenance and repairs on locks and dams. OMB says that existing diesel fuel taxes of 29 cents per gallon on barge operators won’t fund the industry’s part of capital investments in inland waterway projects projected over the next decade. The government and industry are supposed to share in a 50-50 project funding structure.

The budget estimates that the proposed user fee would generate more than $1 billion for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by 2027; the fund has less than $60 million currently.

Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of WCI, said the council doesn’t have the details of how the fees would be implemented. She said similar-sounding proposals in the Obama and Bush eras were nonstarters for the organization and lawmakers alike.

“We need more details,” Calhoun said. "We are not supportive of (the user fee method) and Congress has not been supportive of that.”

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By Professional Mariner Staff