As the world's leading trading nation, the United States depends on a vast marine transportation system. Ninety-five percent of overseas trade tonnage moves by water, and the cargo moving through the U.S. marine transportation system contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product. As it does with the nation's highway and aviation systems, the federal government participates with hundreds of public and private entities in maintaining and improving the marine transportation system. During fiscal years 1999, 2000, and 2001, federal expenditures for the commercial marine transportation system averaged $3.9 billion per year. Funding for about 80 percent of these expenditures came from the U.S. Treasury's general fund. During this same period, federal agencies collected $1 billion each year from marine transportation system users. During the same three-year period, federal expenditures for aviation and highway transportation systems averaged $10 billion and $25 billion, respectively, each year. Unlike the funding approach for the marine transportation system, which relies extensively on tax revenue, the federal funding approach for aviation and highway relies almost exclusively on assessments on users of the transportation systems.
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