OP-ED: "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Published Nov 21, 2012 10:55 AM by Tony Munoz

by Tony Munoz, editor-in-chief, The Maritime Executive Magazine and MarEx e-Newsletter.

The Administration’s ZERO Bucks Plan for Maritime

An exuberant President Obama last week unveiled a $447 billion infrastructure plan to quickly inject money into the economy and create jobs. The plan included $50 billion to jumpstart surface transportation projects, but the strategy once again emphasized rail, air and highways. That’s right: “ZERO” bucks for maritime again.

President Obama’s Infrastructure speech rang the warning bells as he said, “Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?” He continued: “Ask yourselves—where would we be right now if the people before us decided not to build our highways, not to build our bridges, our dams, our airports?”

During 2010, China spent about 9% of its GDP on infrastructure and Europe invested 5%. The U.S currently ranks twenty-third in overall infrastructure quality, somewhere between Spain and Chile and spends only 2.4% of GDP on infrastructure. While it’s indisputable that the nation’s aging highways and bridges are in desperate need of repair, the fact is China’s 1.3 billion people are in need of a modern infrastructure and its government has lots of America’s money to invest in it.

The Summer of Our Discontent

The federal government currently spends about $50 billion annually on all forms of transportation.  But the U.S. maritime sector gets “ZERO” bucks annually and is currently not part of the economic recovery plan to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs. When the President reminisced about past generations building the U.S. into an economic superpower, he forgot to mention that most of the economic wealth of those past generations was delivered on a fleet of U.S. ships.

Mr. President, America’s maritime heritage is the backbone of the nation’s economic greatness. U.S. commercial fleets were the workhorses of the Industrial Revolution and they delivered the harvests and manufactured products and bulk resources around the world. They supported the U.S. military in every armed conflict this nation has ever been in. And they delivered America’s generosity when natural disasters or famines inflicted harm and suffering to other people around the planet.

Jobs are what Americans want and need. And lots of new jobs are what it will take to push this economy out of the Great Recession. The disparity between rich and poor has never been greater. While the nation’s wealth disparity is calculated as the top 20 percent of Americans owning 84 percent of the nation’s wealth, it is the income disparity, which is now the greatest since 1928, that is causing massive unemployment and increased spending of 18 percent on food stamps. Today, of all nations in the world, the U.S. now has the largest income disparity of its people except for Luxembourg.

And while Americans need jobs, U.S. shipyards and waterways are empty. The only ships congesting U.S. ports are owned by foreigners and manned by foreign mariners. Today, the greatest trading nation with a $14.7 trillion economy doesn’t own a deepwater fleet or its own intermodal system. Why? Because there has not been a national maritime policy since the Reagan Administration. 

If a nation is judged by its policies and budgets, then the Obama Administration’s 2012 budget for the Maritime Administration shows an absolute disregard for the U.S. maritime sector. While nations with coastlines or waterways consider shipyards and flagged fleets as national assets, the U.S. maritime sector will get a pittance of $357.8 million. Furthermore, the Administration sought to rescind more than $50 million from the Title XI loan guarantee program as well, but Congress refused to accede to the request.

The President’s transport infrastructure support includes an increase of 12 percent in DOT’s 2012 budget ($129 billion). Moreover, that is an increase of 66 percent since FY 2010. Highways will get $70.5 billion, transit $22.4 billion, railroad $8.3 billion and aviation $18.7 billion, and maritime will get $357.8 million to assist the military. Furthermore, the President’s $50 billion transport rejuvenation plan will go to rehabilitate 150,000 miles of existing roadways, to construct 4,000 miles of new railways and renovate 150 miles of airport runways. When it gets broken up again, the U.S. taxpayer will get to fix it again. 

The U.S. has the 9th largest coastline (86,000 miles) in the world and 25,000 miles of inland navigable waterways. The U.S. has 360 commercial ports employing 13.3 million Americans, which contribute $3.15 trillion to the economy and provides $212.5 billion in federal taxes. U.S. inland waterways handle 63 million tons of cargo and contribute $74 billion to the economy. Yet the federal government has “NO” maritime policy.

The Administration needs to realize the nation cannot pave its way or railroad its way to inevitable growth. The U.S. maritime sector can alleviate highway congestion and urban pollution and save billions of dollars in fuel costs by transporting goods on water. The maritime infrastructure of coastline, waterways, shipyards, and ports is already in place. Mr. President, you don’t have to spend $50 billion to build the marine highway system. And if jobs are the #1 issue for Americans and for the Administration, the people can be put back to work very quickly by training them to work in the shipyards, on vessels, and in the ports. Imagine a budget surplus for the arts, education, mass transportation, and health care for the poor. Imagine….

If you believe in jobs and support rebuilding America, then join the Maritime Executive and a distinguished panel of U.S. maritime executives at CCMIT in Linthicum Heights, Maryland on October 12th and 13th, 2011 for “Rebuilding America and Creating Jobs - A Maritime Forum.”   

Read more about MarEx's Upcoming October Conference - The Best Value!


Tony Munoz can be reached at [email protected]

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.