Last April, at an event here in Savannah, Governor Deal implied that the state might cover the entire $650 million cost for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. From the Savannah Morning News’ Deal pledges to ‘do whatever necessary’ to deepen harbor:
Deal told reporters Tuesday at the Port of Savannah he’s “not willing to let the federal government off the hook” from its commitment to cover 60 percent of deepening the shipping channel, a project necessary to accommodate the supersized cargo ships expected when the Panama Canal expansion is completed two years from now.
“We’ll have our 40 percent, and we expect (the federal government) to live up to their commitment,” he said. “But if they don’t, we will accommodate accordingly.”
And now this from last week’s State of the State address:
Another asset is the Port of Savannah, the fourth largest container port in the country and the second largest on the East Coast. As you know, we have worked for many years to expand the Savannah Harbor and deepen the channel in order to allow the larger vessels that will soon be coming through the Panama Canal to dock in our state. We are very pleased that last fall we succeeded in getting a positive Record of Decision from the federal government. This is a major milestone on this project.
My budget includes an additional $50 million in the bond package for this project. This will bring our total state contribution to $231 million. That is almost the state’s entire contemplated share of the costs of this project; the remainder of the cost is to be paid by the federal government.
No mention of the state stepping into the void if the federal government does not come through with that $400 million.
I don’t know how the politics will play out, but I’m guessing that the Governor’s statement from last spring probably won’t work against funding for the massive dredging and environmental mitigation project.
But there might be some significant problems considering trends in governing philosophy. As I noted in a post a few days ago, Georgia’s Republican House delegation opposed the Sandy relief package, primarily because there weren’t offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget. The Cato Institute’s most recent Tax & Budget Bulletin even questions whether the federal government should be involved with port decisions:
Privatization holds great promise. Consider, for example, that U.S. airports and seaports are generally owned by governments, but many foreign airports and seaports have been partly or fully privatized. The World Economic Forum rates America’s seaports only 19th in the world, but the world’s second- and third-best seaports — in Singapore and Hong Kong — are private.
I find Cato’s argument extremely problematic. Hong Kong and Singapore are essentially city states; they are not sprawling nations with many ports directly competing with each other.
Still, Cato is laying out one of the arguments that could make federal support of SHEP even more problematic.