It’s Christmas time! In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas! Here we go …
3. FUNDING FOR LOCKS AND DAMS
We have fourteen years of working on upgrading locks and dams under our belt. Fourteen years. FOURTEEN YEARS.
Luckily, we’ve learned a few things.
- Legislators don’t want to fund things that take more than 2 years to come to fruition. They want to obtain funding for a project that will return results before they are back up for reelection. This makes our project difficult.
- Funding is hard to come by – especially with a gazillion dollar deficit.
- Individual Congressmen told us that we needed to build coalitions and get more people involved. We did that. We now have a coalition of agriculture, trade unions, environmental interests, barge companies, and more involved in pushing for upgraded locks and dams. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere so far, but we’ll continue pushing.
- There’s a lot of waste and mismanagement. The Olmsted Lock and Dam has been a work in progress since 1988 and still isn’t finished. The original cost of $775 million ballooned to a current cost (for an unfinished lock!) of almost $3 billion. This poor prioritization of funds and project is a problem.
- Congress now tells us that public-private partnerships are the ticket so that’s what we’re proposing. Farmers are willing to pay an additional barge fee to increase the private funding if government can allocate funding too. But Congressmen aren’t willing to “increase taxes” in this political climate even though all the folks that pay the “tax” are willing and begging for its implementation.
- Government dysfunction hinders us all … and lock and dam funding isn’t an exception.
We have had some recent successes, but the key here is to continue being patient because every gain is very small baby step in the right direction. The Water Resources and Reform Development Act is right now in conference committee. Both the House and Senate versions contained some changes to the funding mechanism for Olmstead which will free up money to start other lock and dam projects on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. This is a win, but a small one. The new WRRDA will not contain an increase in the barge fuel tax or any additional funding allocations.
For Christmas, Illinois corn farmers just want locks and dams that allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace. They want locks and dams that work and don’t spontaneously combust into the river.
If I’ve inspired you at all, would you ask for the same?
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director