Most of us are unhappy when the U.S. government spends money it doesn’t have. But for the economy of the Mississippi River Valley, it ought to be a worse case of heartburn when the government doesn’t spend money it does have. One example: maintaining the shipping channels of the river.

For years, a tax on harbor traffic has been collected to maintain shipping channels in the deep-water ports. Unhappily, some of the money has been put into a “trust fund” and not used.

That is a time-honored way of making the federal deficit look smaller, but it does not get the dredging done.

Bipartisan legislation by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, has been offered in both houses of Congress to get the dredging done.

The dredging issue affects deep-water ports across the country, but it’s especially important to those of us at the mouth of the mighty Mississippi.

A big freighter grounding in the channel can cause serious economic damage to the nation, not just Louisiana, because of the vast trade carried on the river.

There’s also a significant environmental concern, as state wetlands czar Garret Graves told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

Dredging is expensive, and using the dredge material to rebuild marsh on the coast adds to the cost of dredging contracts. To get both benefits of dredging, he urged Congress to authorize more dredging in the river.

We agree and hope the money is put to its intended use.