MISSION, Texas – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar says he is working on legislation to set up a trust fund to help land ports of entry find additional infrastructure dollars.
The South Texas lawmaker says the White House is also considering such a measure, which could be funded by a fee paid by truck traffic crossing international bridges.
“As you many know sea ports get a harbor maintenance trust fund. There is a lot of money accumulated so they use that to build seaports. But land ports handle over 80 percent of the goods and the people and we don’t have a trust fund,” Cuellar said, at a news conference held recently at the Center for Education & Economic Development in Mission.
“Right now we are over $5 billion short on infrastructure for land ports of entry. I am looking at establishing a land port of entry trust fund so we can put the money there to help fund infrastructure projects.”
Cuellar, D-Laredo, sits on the House Committee on Appropriations. He said that as a member of this committee he could help find funding to kick off the program. However, going forward, the trust fund will need a regular and reliable source of income.
“We need to figure out, how else do we add more money? Some people say, increase the fee (paid by trucks crossing land ports), as long as it goes there and it is spent for that,” Cuellar said.
“Others say, no, we do not want to affect trade. We are going to work with the Border Trade Alliance and other stakeholders to look at this particular situation.”
Cuellar said he has talked to the White House about establishing a land port of entry trust fund. “They are interested in doing something,” he said.
Asked for more information about the trust fund idea, he said he has had conversations with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.
“There is a lot of money that goes to sea ports through their harbor maintenance trust fund. Yet, 80 percent of the people and goods come through land ports of entry. Why don’t we have a dedicated fund?” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said he has a draft piece of legislation and has seen a plan being developed by the White House. He said he has spoken to Sam Vale, owner of the Starr-Camargo International Bridge, and the Border Trade Alliance.
“First, we have to set up the mechanism of a trust fund. Second we have to find the money. I can appropriate money and get it started but then there has to be some money coming in so we can build it, like the harbor trust fund,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“I have to talk the international trade community and the cities because if you get a certain amount of money from a fee, are you okay or is it going to hurt trade? Some people are saying, make sure it is only a little bit and it goes here, not to the general fund. These are the questions I have to run through with the stakeholders. I think everybody agrees we do need a trust fund.”
Cuellar said that right now, infrastructure projects at land ports of entry are funded in a similar fashion to federal courthouses.
“The way the appropriations are set up, we have over five billion dollar shortage in infrastructure at our land ports of entry. We cannot go on with the way we do things now, which is one year we fund one bridge, another year another bridge, just like the courthouse system.”
Asked if members of Congress from the interior of the United States understand the importance of ensuring efficient land ports of entry, Cuellar said they would if they watch a video produced by the Texas Department of Transportation.
“The video has a map showing the routes taken by trucks crossing our land ports of entry. Within a week, 48 states have been crisscrossed. I think members of Congress understand the importance of our trade with Mexico and Latin America.”
Asked if the North American Development Bank could be accessed to fund infrastructure projects at land ports of entry, Cuellar said:
“You have read my mind. We are looking at all options. I think NADBank has funded one before. Under USMCA we were able to add about $250 million so that the capitalization of NADBank has been increased. They can do land ports of entry.”
Cuellar added: “If we are able to create a land port of entry trust fund this would be game changer for our bridges here in South Texas.”