Port Of Savannah Gets $600K, Not $100M, In Obama Budget

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.


    • Charlie says:

      I’d be interested to hear a Democrat’s take on that. From my perspective, his name never comes up when Port of Savannah is discussed. My guess is he still has little or no relationship with this White House (which he ran away from last election), and doesn’t have the clout to now say “please save my congressional district with this money for a Republican state, when the Republicans have a huge target on my forehead during the upcoming re-districting”.

  1. Tiberius says:

    How much was this the failure of Kasim Reed? So much for the Gubernatorial TV commericals in Savannah in 2016 saying he got the $$ for the deepening.

    • Charlie says:

      I don’t think you can call it anyone’s “failure” yet, let alone Reed. There’s a lot of poker to be played before this budget is voted on. There’s a line item there. Now, every political issue over the next 10 months, state and national, can be used (or not) to leverage this if some want to play ball. Like it or not (most here won’t), it’s as pure politics as it can get.

  2. hewhoone says:

    Rick- Sticking it to a red state while proposing a $53 billion dollar high speed train boondoggle doesn’t qualify a president as the “darling of small-government conservatives” regardless of his race.

  3. Spacey G says:

    I gotta wonder how many people really WANT Port of Savannah expansion anyway? (Outside of government and places like the GPA.) Neighbors in SC sure don’t seem to want it.

    Is it really infrastructure/jobs creation, or just a jobs program with a lot of those trickle-down kinda *ifs* built in? Like… IF they build it/dredge it, and keep building it/dredging it all the time (which I”m assuming we/the Corps will have do since that’s what they do – screw stuff up and re-do it), all that cheap crap from China will keep coming. Do we really WANT all that much more cheap crap from China no one seems all that wildly interested in right now?

    And what are we going to send BACK on those supermax ships anyway? Chicken feet? Peach wine, but not on Sundays? Sunday school classes? Newt’s ex-wives?

    Isn’t that called a trade deficit?

    • Charlie says:

      The port of Savannah is one of the few, if not only US ports, that has a near 50-50 mix of imports/exports. Thus, the ships arrive full, but most importantly, they leave full too.

      We have products we make here beyond agriculture. I’m not sure if Kia is exporting yet, but I do know that BMW and Mercedes export SUV’s built in SC and AL to Europe.

      • bowersville says:

        Watch Senator Lindsey Graham of SC. He’s currently attempting to find feasibility money for the study of dredging Charleston harbor.

        A move was on to dredge an international harbor at Southport, NC which is a few nautical miles south of Wilmington. After an environmental impact finding at Southport, NC is looking to expand the harbor at Wilmington.

        More than just Savannah harbor is at play.

        • billdawers says:

          Interesting post and comment thread. It’s certainly not K. Reed’s fault this didn’t get funded — and a quick look at the Corps budget shows little funding for any of the East Coast projects. We are in a scramble for federal money up and down the coast, and there has been no national strategy established: where, in fact, would it make the most sense to spend money for dredging for those big ships? (Despite the success of its port, Savannah might fare poorly in a serious discussion because the channel is more than 25 miles long.)

          I think Barrow’s name never comes up because, as was suggested by others, he has no pull. He has positioned himself to win re-election in the past, but only by alienating both key core supporters and higher-ups in the party.

          As Spacey G suggests, there are a lot of unanswered economic and environmental issues that many in the Savannah area are only just now beginning to consider. And opposition from SC has geared up dramatically in recent weeks.

          FWIW, I don’t think anyone will buy the argument that it’s not an “earmark” if GA’s congressional delegation tries to turn that measly $600,000 to keep the process afloat into tens of millions for construction (which would then commit the feds to a few hundred million more in coming years).

          I’ve been writing some about this issue: http://www.billdawers.com/

    • drjay says:

      the neighbors in south carolina don’t want it because they want charleston to be the “big port” south of new york, there is a need for a “big port” south of new york, so wrangling is over who wins, not if someone does it….

        • Lady Thinker says:

          Can’t help it because when I asked my grandma where babies come from (I was about five) she said from under the cabbage leaves where the cabbage rose incubates the cabbage baby. She was right, wasn’t she? I mean grannys don’t lie, do they?

      • analogkid says:

        I am opposed to cabbage patch doll trafficking. Life begins at germination.

        Sorry. I think my talking points got shuffled.

  4. KD_fiscal conservative says:

    Hahahah. You demanded spending cuts and spending cuts you got. On the other side, the Republicans idea of cuts are democrat popular projects, programs, and insignificant things popular with the base, like “no more gov’t funded abortions.”

    • Charlie says:

      What I want is entitlement reform.

      Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Interest on the debt account for $.60 cents of every federal dollar spent. Guess what percentage of our speding is covered by actual revenue (ie., not deficits)? 60%.

      Thus, you could cut 100% of discretionary spending and barely balance the budget.

      Entitlements are where the money is. That’s where the cuts have to happen.

      • KD_fiscal conservative says:

        “The GOP is also for cutting contraception programs”
        Yeah, I also noticed they are trying to save some $20 million by cutting on family planning. They may be the most desperate attempt to bring in social conservatives I’ve seen. Although I agree locals health departments, even down here in the deep, deep south usually provide such services, the GOP is getting pretty pathetic.

        Charlie, A novel idea, but I highly doubt it will happen. You are correct, the vast majority of the budget is in the big 3; healthcare, social security and defense. I think s.s. needs to be phased out slowly, defense can absorb some cuts(as even the defense sec. points out), and vast majority healthcare spending is for elaborate, unnecessary procedures that no one would do if they had to pay any amount for.

        But you will notice most of the cuts are very partition, and the party that decide to touch the entitlements or defense will be attacked vigorously by the other side. The dems are usually guilty, but the repubs did the same thing during the last election concerning the medicare cuts in the healthcare bill. Pew just conducted this poll, basically confirming people hate cuts (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1892/tea-party-republicans-divide-cuts-federal-spending) but there are some areas that each party can cut less fallout. Maybe an elaborate skem where the dems can cut in areas considered ok for them, and repubs can make cuts in the other area. Both sides can say “we are not happy about it but the ____, made us do it” Naaay, that would require bipartisanship.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Of course you want entitlement reform. Why not make tax cuts for the rich permanent too?

        “Entitlements are where the money is. That’s where the cuts have to happen.”

        Corporations and the rich are where the money’s at—-US wealth is more concentrated in fewer hands than its been in 80 years. That’s where taxes have to be increased.

        The Gipper’s “entitlement reform” increased Social Security taxes that are largely paid by the middle class, and used the proceeds to nearly triple the deficit. The GOP under Bush II cut taxes for the wealthy, and likewise nearly tripled the deficit again (factoring in the off the budget wars).

        That huge amount of interest on the debt we’re now paying? Virtually none of it is a result of entitlements.

        And why no mention of cutting the US military budget, the one that is nearly the size of the military budgets of rest of the world combined, the one that adjusted for inflation is the same size as 1980 at the height of the cold war (without even including ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan)?

  5. hewhoone says:

    Just to be clear, there is no federal money for any port to be dredged. President Obama is already proposing a $1.6 trillion deficit for the year so any money would have to be borrowed on top of that.

    So here’s a novel idea: why don’t we let the states willing to pay for the dredging get the economic benefits? If the projects really provide a worthwhile return on investment they will be done.

    I know it bypasses the back room political maneuverings that keep power concentrated in Washington, DC but it just may be crazy enough to work.

      • B Balz says:

        Savannah Harbor will be deepened. Georgians will pay for it if 100%, if we do not have Federal funds to offset the cost. So, be careful of what you wish for, and make sure you are a Port beneficiary …

        • SOGTP says:

          The most economically feasible way to pay for it, is private wealth and capital. Federal funds and the selling of state bonds leads to malinvestment. Private wealth and capital is risk and decisions to invest are made on logical business decisions.

          • B Balz says:

            Well, the port of Savannah is certainly logical. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, US east cost ports are deemed to prosper.

            Some projects are wee too large for private capital to handle. I think that is the issue.

              • Baker says:


                It’s unfortunate, but no private company would even begin to try to do this. Just the amount of red tape involved and wrangling of multiple govt entities would be enough to drive them off, but the several BILL price tag just isn’t feasible for a private firm.

            • Lady Thinker says:

              Maybe the bomb dropped in WWII 50 miles off the coast of Savannah could go off and create that deep water channel for us. How deep does the channel need to be and how deep is it now?

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      I’ve suggested this in the past. What difference does it make if we spend the $100,000,000 here in Georgia, or whether we send that $100,000,000 to D.C. so they can give it back to us for the job? All money comes from the taxpayers, regardless. Only, the second option involves Uncle Sam telling Georgia what to do with the port if we accept the carrot, er, I mean, funding.

      I’m guessing that we could have been done with it by now if we’d have done it ourselves. Or we could wait another 25 years or so to see whether Georgia or South Carolina is D.C.’s favorite.

      • SOGTP says:

        Withholding $100M from receipts we send to Washington DC is a good alternative. That is money generated by Georgians and it would be moral and constitutional. Still not sure if its good business though.

    • SOGTP says:

      Excuse me … deepening with federal funds. I’m all for it if it is done with private money and could be convinced to bring it to the public’s vote in Georgia.

  6. KD_fiscal conservative says:

    “Withholding $100M from receipts we send to Washington DC is a good alternative. That is money generated by Georgians and it would be moral and constitutional”

    So you guys are on the NOT paying taxes, as levied by Congress, is constitutional wagon? How is this not under Art.1 Sec.8

    “Deepening of Savannah Harbor is immoral, unconstitutional, and bad economics”
    All of these determinations of constitutionality, you MUST be some kind of scholar. Once again please explain why federal projects are unconstitutional again.

    You guys want to be taken seriously, and not look like some fringe organization, but yet you make over the top comments without any evidence. It makes no sense.

    So, are you guys going to primary Congressman Kingston as well…..

    • KD_fiscal conservative says:

      I just went in and read your article; so basically you don’t approve of Marbury v. Madison and instead like you own interpenetration on the Constitution, right?

    • seenbetrdayz says:

      Remember when you at that age when you wanted to buy certain clothes but your parents told you that as long as they were paying at the register, you wouldn’t be getting those clothes?

      So you got smart and bought your own clothes with your own money, right?

      That’s kind of what happens between the state and federal governments.

      • seenbetrdayz says:

        Their money, their rules. Your money, your rules.

        It isn’t a difficult concept, but as SOGTP said, that’s not even taking into consideration the economic calculations.

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