Port appeal bipartisan

While the U.S. Congress is deadlocked over many issues of taxing and spending, there is some bipartisan support for what is a key Louisiana interest: ports.

From President Barack Obama to members of Congress in both parties, the desire to boost the economy through exports is a common theme that is bringing disparate leaders together.

During his State of the Union address, the president called for efficient handling of a growing export trade through American ports.

Now, a bipartisan group of House members has responded with a call for spending — yes, spending — more taxpayer money on ports.

Usually the “spending” part would prompt recriminations between the parties, but the virtue of the new call for increased spending is that it would come from a pot of money that is already collected.

The members of Congress, headed by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, asked that the president include in his budget request the amount of money already collected by a user fee on imported and domestic cargo.

Only about half the $1.5 billion collected by the cargo fee has been spent on its intended purpose of port maintenance in recent years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that top-priority harbors, those handling about 90 percent of the traffic, are dredged to authorized depths and widths only about a third of the time, the House letter said.

While this is a national problem, it has very specific implications for the port complexes of Louisiana — which is why making these harbor improvements enjoys support from the Louisiana delegation, including its two U.S. senators of both parties.

The costs are more general, though, for the economy. “Light-loading” barges because channels are shallower “increases the cost of shipping and the risk of vessel grounding and collisions,” the House letter said. “Lack of adequate maintenance has far-reaching consequences on both the general public and the economy at large.”

We support this initiative, and hope that the Louisiana delegation continues to push for more-effective measures to grow America’s export trade, and thus the economy.