ANKENY, Iowa – Last week, President Obama signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), which has been seven years in the making.
That’s good news for Iowa’s agricultural exports, many of which are sent down the Mississippi River. With new legislation in place, important maintenance projects on locks and dams can begin anew, but some waterways users argue the bill doesn’t go far enough.
Funding for locks and dams projects is split equally between general treasury funds and a 20-cent per gallon diesel fuel tax on the shipping industry. Some shippers say that funding still isn’t enough, and they want a six-to-nine cent tax increase to cover maintenance costs.
Soy Transportation Coalition Executive Director Mike Steenhoek says realistically, a tax hike is a tough sell.
“Any tax increase,” he says, “even if it’s something that is advocated by the taxpayers – in this situation, the barge industry – is really viewed unfavorably in this political climate that we find ourselves in. No one wants to be accused of raising taxes on Americans during a period of economic malaise.”
Authorizing a bill is one thing; Steenhoek says it’s sort of like a blueprint. Appropriating a bill, that is, actually channeling funds into projects and programs that the authorized bill outlines, is a completely different challenge. But Steenhoek says the outlook on WRRDA is positive.
“We’re hopeful now that the appropriations process will comply with the directions established in in this piece of legislation,” says Steenhoek. “Thus far it appears that that’s going to happen the appropriations process is underway and it looks like some of the spending decisions are going to be in compliance with WRRDA and that’s a favorable development.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the new WRRDA bill comes at a cost of more than $12 billion over the next decade.