March 12, 2019
Chattanooga Times Free-Press
By Dave Flessner
President Trump is proposing to cut out federal funding for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund next year, which would stall further work on the partially built replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga.
The White House budget plan for fiscal 2020 cuts overall spending for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program by 31 percent, or $4.8 billion, from the $7.1 billion allocated this year for the Corps to maintain and upgrade dams, locks and other structures on America’s navigable rivers. The Trump budget allocates no federal funds next year to the trust fund that pays for new locks and dams to match the money generated by diesel fuel taxes paid by barge operators.
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Without the $326.5 million provided this year, construction on the Chickamauga and Kentucky locks on the Tennessee River and the Lower Monongahela Lock in Pennsylvania would have stopped.
The White House is proposing to raise more money from river users to support inland waterway projects by imposing a a per-vessel charge on the inland waterways for going through locks. Although barge operators pay a diesel fuel tax of 29 cents per gallon into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, barges and recreational boats do not pay a fee to use Corps locks along navigable rivers.
Such proposals have previously been rejected by Congress which must approve all federal appropriations.
“Not unexpected based on past Office of Management and Budget requests from any Administration, the fiscal 2020 proposal is still very disappointing considering the President’s many positive pronouncements on the importance of infrastructure investment,” said Mike Toohey, president of the Waterways Council Inc., which advocates for the barge industry.
Democrats who gained control of the House of Representatives last fall vowed to fight Trump’s proposed budget cuts for most domestic programs.
“Democrats wholeheartedly reject his proposal,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congressional backers of the Chickamauga Lock in Tennessee also vowed Tuesday to work to maintain federal funding for the inland waterways projects.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, a Chattanooga Republican who jokingly refers to the lock in Chattanooga as the “Chuck Lock” because of his ongoing support for completing the Chickamauga replacement lock, said he will work on the House Appropriations Committee to again restore funding for the lock.
“I am concerned with the proposed cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers, and I will work – as I always have – to secure funding for the Chickamauga Lock,” Fleischmann said. “I understand that difficult funding decisions have to be made, but I believe that long-term infrastructure investment is vital to our country’s economic health and prosperity. In the coming weeks, I will advocate for a budget that strikes a balance between targeted discretionary cuts and our nation’s priorities, and will work to achieve this objective without severely depleting the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Although no money for the Chickamauga Lock was included in President Donald Trump’s original budget plan a year ago, Congress ultimately allocated $89.7 million for the Chickamauga lock project this year, and the Corps estimates efficient funding next year could be as much as $104.3 million toward the $758 million project.
While Fleischmann opposes some of the cuts Trump is proposing in domestic spending, he said he was “pleased to see emphasis placed on several critical missions, including maintaining our national nuclear deterrent, bolstering our military, and supporting our veterans.”
The Trump budget provides additional funding for the Uranium Processing Facility being built in Oak Ridge as part of $16.5 billion allocated for the National Nuclear Security Administration, up $1.4 billion from the current fiscal year. The White House budget proposes $8 billion to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear stockpile; $3.2 billion to modernize aging infrastructure; $1.2 billion for physical security, information technology, cybersecurity, and other support for the NNSA nuclear security enterprise, and $1.6 billion for nuclear nonproliferation.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, also pledged to support completion of the Chickamauga Lock as he has in each of the past three years when the Trump White House didn’t initially propose funding for the project.
“I appreciate the president’s budget suggestions and will carefully consider his recommendations as Congress begins the process to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year,” Alexander said in a statement. “Under the Constitution, it is Congress’ job to set spending priorities and pass appropriations bills, and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, my priorities will continue to be making sure our national defense, national laboratories, the National Institutes of Health and national parks have the resources they need.”
Despite an overall cut of 14 percent in funding for the Department of Interior, the Trump budget does support a $6.5 billion Public Lands Infrastructure Fund the White House is proposing to address deferred maintenance not just in the National Park System, but also on wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management properties, and national forests. Another $160.1 million would be provided through the Park Service’s construction budget specifically for deferred maintenance in the National Park System under the Trump spending plan.
“I am encouraged to see the president included a proposal – similar to the one I introduced – in his budget to help address the park maintenance backlog in our 418 national parks so Americans can enjoy them,” Alexander said.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340