Senate appropriators are taking a look at overhauling the way that the federal government collects fees for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The committee is considering tossing out the current 20 cent diesel fuel tax, which brings in an estimated $170 million annually to pay for lock, dam, and dredging costs. As currently structured the Inland Waterways Trust Fund does not generate enough income from the fuel tax to pay for the growing needs, a situation that ASCE has raised with Congress during discussions related to the Water Resources Development Act.
The Senate FY 14 Energy and Water Appropriations committee report proposes an alternative, modeled after the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which levies fees on barge operators based on the value of the cargo being transported.
The Senate left a proposal to fix the inland waterways tax out of their version of WRDA, due to the constitutional requirement that tax bills originate in the House. The House has yet to introduce their version of WRDA, the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA), however the bill is expected to be marked up by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the end of September.
ASCE graded the nation’s inland waterways with a grade of “D-” in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, due to the fact that in many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s. In fact, more than half of the locks are over 50 years old, while projects to repair and replace these aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete. ASCE believes that an increase in the waterways user fee is long overdue, and recommends that the current fee be increased to between six and nine cents a gallon, while also tying the fee to the consumer price index.
While there is generally a negative outlook on Congressional productivity, it does not necessarily translate to the fate of WRDA. The National Journal‘s Billy House reported this week that WRDA should be, relative to other legislation, regarded optimistically http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/7-bills-that-could-actually-pass-20130812