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Ports unhappy with Obama transport plan

Ports unhappy with Obama transport plan
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Cargo shipping industry groups in Washington are unhappy with President Obama’s $478 billion transportation plan because they say it does not include enough spending for boosting U.S. ports. 

Obama’s proposal calls for six years of funding for surface transportation projects like roads and transit, but the Alexandria, Va.-based American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) said the president plan offered only a paltry sum for the nation’s ports. 

“International trade now accounts for fully 30 percent of the U.S. economy,” AAPA President Kurt Nagle said in a statement. “To compete in global markets, America needs an efficient and modern freight transportation infrastructure system, including seaports and the land and water connections into and out of port facilities.”

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Obama's transportation proposal calls for spending $317 billion on U.S. roads and bridges over the next six years, including $94.7 billion during the 2016 fiscal year. The plan also includes $143 billion on federal transit projects and $18 billion on freight improvements over six-year period. 

Nagle said the broader road and transit improvements would make it easier for companies to move goods to markets once they are processed through U.S. ports, but he said the impact of the spending could be offset by a reduction in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’, which selects port projects for federal spending under a separate water infrastructure bill that was passed last year. 

The port group said Obama’s transportation proposal would also reduce the amount of funding for the federal government’s Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund from $1.93 billion to $915 million.  

“We’re pleased to see and support the increased funding requested for surface transportation infrastructure, but deeply troubled by the proposed cuts to maintenance and modernization of federal navigation channels, the critical waterside infrastructure that connect our ports and nation to the world marketplace,” Nagle said. 

“AAPA believes [Obama’s] grants, loans and policy changes would lead to improved freight movement over our landside transportation system,” the AAPA chief continued. “If we can’t get the goods efficiently and competitively into and out of our country through seaports and waterside navigation channels, American manufacturers won’t be able to receive the materials and/or components they need, and they as well as U.S. farmers, won’t be able to competitively export their products globally.  In addition, U.S. retailers and consumers will suffer.”

The Obama administration has said that the president’s plan is a balanced way to address the nation’s wide-ranging infrastructure problems. 

“Our budget proposal lays the foundation for a future where our transportation infrastructure meets the demands of a growing population and an economy that depends on the free flow of freight,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday in a statement. 

“This administration is looking towards the horizon – the future – but to do this we need Congress’ partnership to pass a long-term reauthorization to put Americans to work rebuilding America,” Foxx continued. 

The administration’s claim of balance between different modes of transportation was not enough to satisfy vocal port supporters in Congress, including some who are members of Obama’s own Democratic Party. 

“Although I support the president’s proposed increases in funding for many transportation programs, I strongly disagree with major cuts in spending for our nation’s ports that are included in his proposal,” Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calf.) said in a statement. 

“The president’s budget undoes the bipartisan progress we made in the last Congress to increase port funding,” Hahn continued, citing the Harbor Maintenance Fund reduction. 

“For decades, Congress has failed to fully spend the money we have collected at our ports through the Harbor Maintenance Tax. However, the president’s budget proposal fails to meet the targets that passed with bipartisan support.  Instead of reaching 100 percent by 2025, the president’s budget would return only 30 percent of HMT money to our ports in 2025. This is a huge step backwards and is deeply disappointing to see in a budget that prioritizes building 21st century infrastructure.”

Obama’s infrastructure plan is included in his $4 trillion 2016 budget, which was released on Monday.

The White House said Monday that Obama's transportation proposal could be paid by requiring companies who have investments overseas to return the money to the U.S.

The proposal, known as “repatriation,” would allow companies to bring back earnings to the United States at a 14 percent tax rate, generating an estimated $238 billion in revenue for the government that could be used to pay for infrastructure improvements, officials said.

The White House said Obama's plan would keep the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund, which is currently scheduled to run out of money in May, solvent for the next six years without asking drivers to pay more at the pump to pay for new construction projects.