Florida is making the most of its 14 deepwater ports with investments aimed at improving the state’s competitiveness in the global economy. Florida’s port expansion plans will create a more efficient freight-handling system and make the state more attractive to companies interested in relocating to Florida.
Floridians will benefit from port expansion with lower transportation costs and state and local governments will benefit from additional tax revenues.
However, there is one obstruction affecting the process of improving Florida’s ports: The federal government must approve port projects before they can be done, whether or not federal funds are used in the project.
The U.S. Senate recently passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which now is being considered in the House. This bill, if passed, would have several positive effects on Florida, including: authorization for important projects such as Everglades restoration; spending for maintenance dredging projects; and expansion of a public-private partnership (P3) pilot financing program for navigation, flood and storm projects
Passage of the WRDA will complement the substantial investments Florida already has made to improve the quality of its ports system — identified as being critical to realizing Florida’s goal of becoming the premier trade hub for U.S. trade with Latin America, the Caribbean and other regions of the world. Investments in Florida’s port system have encouraged private-sector investments in logistics capacity in our state.
Maximizing the benefits of both public and private-sector investments depends on proper coordination so that benefits of other components of the logistics system can create efficiencies. These efficiencies are critical for Florida’s recovery from the recent recession, which had a severe impact on the state.
There are two steps to getting a federal project done under the WRDA. First, the project must be authorized, then the project funds must be appropriated. The uncertainty associated with federal appropriations has caused Florida to commit state funds to projects in both Miami and Jacksonville because of their importance in improving Florida’s competitiveness in the world. Under the WRDA, the Miami dredging project would receive a federal appropriation that would reimburse the state, as Florida has already paid the federal portion so that PortMiami will be ready for post-Panamax ships when the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014. The Miami and Jacksonville projects, along with important projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (authorized in WRDA 2000), are important to Florida’s business and environmental future.
Funds from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund would be required to be spent in the same year they are collected and be fully spent on harbor and port operation and maintenance if the WRDA is passed. This would require the fees paid for port use to be spent on upkeep of ports and not for other purposes. This will help Florida ports continue to improve their efficiency and compete against ports in other states.
Passage of the WRDA will make Florida’s transportation and logistics system more efficient and create jobs in our state. Florida’s U.S. senators and representatives should support the WRDA to help Florida’s competitiveness in the world economy.
Dominic M. Calabro is president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch.