For Immediate Release
Contact: Chris Brescia, Paul C. Rohde
Thursday March 6, 2003
House Rejects Raiding River Dollars Inland Waterway Trust Fund Dedicated to Lock Modernization
A House Committee addressing allocation of tax depository sums for river issues rejected the Administration’s idea of using reserves, dedicated for lock construction, to pay for everyday operation and maintenance of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee opposed violating the long-standing fuel tax agreement between river shippers and the federal government. In 1980, shippers voluntarily accepted what has become the highest of commercial fuel taxes, with promises that its surplus would be a funding mechanism for lock modernization.
Tax money was collected into the Inland Waterway Trust Fund, whose surplus now contains almost $400 million, but Congressional promises of appropriating the remaining funds for new locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers has gone ignored. Most of the existing locks, approaching 70 years of age and in dire need of repair and construction, continue to deteriorate and are constant threat of breaking down.
Chairman John Duncan’s (R-TN) opening comments expressed his concern, stating, “There are indeed large surpluses in these funds that should be spent. However, these funds should be spent on the original purposes for which the fees were collected. The user..of waterways have paid these fees in good faith for...improvements. It is wrong for the Administration to now suggest that the money should be used for other purposes.”
The House of Representatives could consider lock modernization on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers later this year or in 2004. The trust fund would then be used for partial funding of infrastructure improvements. Other Subcommittee members echoed Chairman Duncan’s concerns. A drafted resolution from the Subcommittee to the House opposed the misuse of the trust fund for any purpose other than lock modernization.
“We accepted the fuel tax twenty years ago on condition that the undersized and deteriorating locks would be addressed,” stated Looman Stingo, Chairman of MARC 2000, a group advocating lock modernization and responsible stewardship of rivers in the basin. “Eventually, Major Rehabilitation projects snuck into the equation. As locks continue to age, those rehabilitation demands increase. Our region contributes the most, but somehow doesn’t get our return share invested back here. Lock modernization isn’t a question of ‘whether’ but of ‘when’, as we can no longer afford to mortgage away our economic viability. ”
MARC 2000 indicates that an additional $26 million could be appropriated in FY04 for existing Major Rehabilitation projects in the region, rather than raiding the Trust Fund for other purposes.