WSB TV’s Lori Geary is reporting that President’s Obama’s budget recommendation to Congress includes $600K for permitting costs to deepen the Port of Savannah, but not the $100 Million in construction costs the Georgia Governor and Congressional delegation were hoping for.
While the initial reaction will be that $600K is less than 1% of what was asked, the important thing here is that the line item was included in the President’s budget request, and thus is an acknowledged project going forward for the White House. As I had written in my weekly column (attached below), Presidential authorization is required to avoid Georgia Republicans violating their self-imposed ban on requesting earmarks.
Thus, the language attached to this line item becomes key. If the language specifies only permitting funds, then it’s difficult to change the amount without it becoming an earmark. But if the language is more nebulous and includes words like “to begin construction”, then the $600K could be substantially increased during the budget negotiations without constituting being an earmark.
One high level House Republican staff member I spoke to this morning issues a caution, however, in that the days of vote buying are over, and doesn’t see any proposed budget amounts being increased. Right now, most in DC are trying to get their hands on the actual document. The wording next to the $600,000 line item is key in any go forward strategy.
Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Republicans Hope Democratic President Changes Port Of Savannah
The eyes of Georgia politics today are not focused on Atlanta, but on Washington DC, as President Obama officially submits his 2012 budget proposal. Though the document is an unofficial first offer in a year-long negotiation with Congress, Georgia’s political and business interests are looking for one key line item: Will President Obama request the first $100 Million from Congress of the over half-billion dollars needed to deepen the port of Savannah?
The issue has forged some unlikely alliances in an effort to make Savannah’s harbor ready to receive “Super-Max” ships that will be able to fit through an expanded Panama Canal in a few years. Currently, only Norfolk Virginia has a main channel deep enough to receive these largest of ships. Deepening Savannah harbor would put Georgia at a competitive advantage over competing ports in Charleston and Jacksonville. Savannah is also a port that has the unique feature of being balanced almost equally between exports and imports. In a state with unemployment over 10 percent, more activity at the Port of Savannah means more jobs across the state.
And thus, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been working diligently with Georgia’s mostly Republican Congressional delegation as Georgia’s “friendly face” with the Obama administration. Reed has argued that logistics are in our state’s DNA, and that a stronger Port of Savannah means more jobs for the state, and more air cargo for Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. Reed took his case national Sunday, appearing on NBC’s Meet The Press to discuss how he was practicing budget cuts and austerity measures as all governments have to do, but still must find ways to invest in infrastructure that keeps the country moving.
Reed’s assistance has been key in keeping federal funding a real possibility, as “earmarks” are now officially out of favor in Congress. While most believe an earmark is pork added as a sweetener to pass legislation, earmarks are actually any money directly appropriated by Congress. With Congress unilaterally disarming themselves of earmarks, the President through his budget process is the vehicle of choice to determine if Savannah gets a federal boost.
In agreeing to swear off earmarks, Senators Isakson and Chambliss left a caveat that they would still work to find ways to fund the Savannah expansion through Congressional means if necessary. Yet newly elected Congressman and House Appropriations member Tom Graves has stated that while potentially a worthy and important project, the Port of Savannah expansion would receive no special earmark status from House Republicans, saying “We’ve banned those, and there’ll be no more earmarks over the next two years. So that’s not even an option.”
Thus, Republicans interested in keeping Georgia a step ahead of neighboring ports in Florida and South Carolina have placed their cards, at least for the moment, in the hands of a Democratic inland mayor, and a Democratic President. Should this strategy be successful, each side will likely resume party line rhetoric at the national level, while Reed will enjoy additional leverage as he spends his new found political capitol during ongoing Atlanta regional transportation negotiations.
If the President decides to ignore the plight of the majority Republican Georgia, expect the will of at least one Congressman, Savannah’s Jack Kingston, to be tested on the self imposed earmark ban. In reality, however, eyes would turn to Georgia’s Senators to do the public part of any heavy lifting required to pry the funding from a shrinking federal budget. It’s one of the worst kept secrets in Congress that Georgia Congressmen have vowed to seek no earmarks, only to quietly walk across Capitol Hill and beg Senators to include earmarks for their district in the Senate budget proposals.
Thus, if Obama decides to help out a friendly mayor, expect all smiles later today. But should the President place his infrastructure priorities around states needed for re-election, the Georgia Congressional delegation may quickly divide among those who seek ideological purity, versus those who want ships leaving the Port of Savannah – full of Georgia made exports – to be larger and more frequent.