The price of the earmark ban in Georgia

Dredging of the Port of Savannah has been in the works since 1996. AJC file

Dredging of the Port of Savannah has been in the works since 1996. AJC file

The tea party movement claimed its first post-election victory in Washington this week, forcing even the most reluctant GOP members of Congress to swear off the earmarks that have come to symbolize out-of-control federal spending.

Many Republicans celebrated. But not all did.

The impact of the earmark ban on Georgia is substantial. Federal funding for the state’s biggest economic development project — the $551 million dredging of the Port of Savannah, worth thousands of new jobs — just became more tenuous.

But another consequence may startle tea party enthusiasts even more. The earmark moratorium has made Democrats like Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed even more valuable to Republicans in this red state — as a thin but crucial bridge into the Obama administration.

Plans to deepen the Port of Savannah by six feet, to handle cargo ships that will soon begin to pass through an enlarged Panama Canal, have been in the works for 14 years.

In public, Gov. Sonny Perdue has proclaimed the harbor deepening to be the most important infrastructure target in the state. (E-mails indicate the governor thinks this in private as well — he’s tapped state workers at the Georgia Ports Authority for their advice on business opportunities after he leaves office in January.)

Given Georgia’s current economic straits, the port dredging has been a top priority for U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. The task has fallen to them in part because House Republicans from Georgia joined the no-earmark movement months ago.

Earmarks — demands from individual members of Congress for specific federal spending in specific places, redirected from elsewhere — are more the symbol of federal overspending than the cause.

They have been much abused, of course. But they amount to about $16 billion annually — 1.1 percent of discretionary outlays in the 2010 federal budget.

The most effective argument against earmarks may be the contention that they undercut the willingness of some members of Congress to oppose overstuffed budget bills by tying excess spending to local pork.

Be that as it may, the end of earmarking shifts political clout away from individual members of Congress — into the hands of congressional committee chairmen and, for at least the next two years, President Barack Obama.

“The Republican party will be giving the Obama administration more latitude in how they spend money,” conceded U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah — who is lobbying to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Given that the dredging of the port of Savannah would return $4 for every $1 spent, Kingston is confident that the project can pass muster with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And yet.

“You’re competing with a whole nation, and there are a lot of flooding issues out there,” the congressman said.

Some members of Georgia’s congressional delegation recently sent a letter to Obama — a formal request for the president to include the dredging of the Port of Savannah into next year’s budget.

Chambliss, Isakson, Kingston and U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta were the only Republicans from the Georgia delegation who would sign it. Others feared it might be construed as breaking their anti-earmark vow.

(Rather than sign the note, U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County, preferred to write an opinion piece, published in the Savannah Morning News, pitching the port project to Obama as an area for compromise with Republicans.)

GOP wariness has required backers of the Savannah port project to rely more heavily on Democrats with ties to Obama. Reed, the mayor of Atlanta and a former state senator, raised eyebrows this fall when he squired Republican-leaning members of the Georgia Ports Authority around Washington, D.C.

The mayor will also be featured at a Dec. 2 event in Atlanta designed to rally the support of the metro area’s business community for the Savannah effort. No charity is involved. An estimated 60 percent of the goods from a refurbished Port of Savannah would pass through metro Atlanta.

If Obama doesn’t include the federal government’s 70 percent share for the dredging in his next budget, both Isakson and Chambliss have indicated that the needs of the Port of Savannah would trump any antipathy toward earmarks. They have a constitutional duty to maintain U.S. waterways, the two senators argue.

But even if Isakson and Chambliss were successful in the Senate, the Republican-controlled House has vowed to block any budget bill with earmarks. Even worthy Republican ones.

So a letter to Obama may not be enough. It might be time for Republicans in Georgia to send him flowers and a basket of fruit, too.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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80 comments Add your comment

SpaceyG on Twitter

November 17th, 2010
6:55 pm

Thinking Corps of Engineers for YOUR earmarked holiday projects? You will need to watch (carefully) Harry Shearer’s documentary, The Big Uneasy, first. See me for a copy if need be:

Southern Boy

November 17th, 2010
6:56 pm

Sigh. Can Savannah even survive without Federal money/earmarks? (Go @SpaceyG !)

The Centrist

November 17th, 2010
7:03 pm

This is what many have been waiting for. Tthe moments of truth. Now we will see if those who have being calling themselves conservatives will keep laughing about winning elections having consequences and reciting the old Reagan sound bite about “I’m from the Government.” Real free enterprise says let Georgia businesses pay for the Savannah Port dredging and not US taxpayers.

SpaceyG on Twitter

November 17th, 2010
7:04 pm

Yeah, Southern Boy. Big government is exactly like abortion. In that everyone is against it… until they need it. Stuff makes for great campaign tools though!

The Centrist

November 17th, 2010
7:07 pm

Every Georgia Republican in Congress who supports funding the Savannah Project should be called out and held accountable for wanting to spend money the US does not have on local projects.

[...] 7:07 p.m.: The AJC’s Jim Galloway has filed his Thursday column, and it’s about what budgetary trouble Georgia — specifically, Savannah and the Port [...]


November 17th, 2010
7:13 pm

“They have a constitutional duty to maintain U.S. waterways, the two senators argue.”

The government as a whole has constitutional duties. Senators participate by voting. If it’s a great project, sell it Saxby and Johnny.

Or, better yet, since it’s such a great idea and sure to be profitable at a 4 to 1 rate, why isn’t the State of Georgia or some company doing the work for a piece of the pie? I thought the GOP was all about local government involvement and private economic solutions. It seems our two Senators are socialists in disguise. I just can’t figure out why they won’t apply their true political leanings when it comes to things like health care.

SpaceyG on Twitter

November 17th, 2010
7:20 pm

And Jimbo, it’s not for lil ‘ole me to tell anyone at the award-winning AJC how to do their jobs, but now would be a GREAT time to remind your readership that the Corps is funded entirely by earmarks. Loads of ‘em. The biggest Congresspersons can scavenge around Washington for. A refresher course in Corps funding could very well be in order. And one in the spectacular Corps history – of failing upward.


November 17th, 2010
7:27 pm

As soon as the republicans embrace ending earmarks the AJC becomes the earmark’s biggest supporter. Zebras don’t change their stripes.

Reason has left the building.

November 17th, 2010
7:45 pm

“Real free enterprise says let Georgia businesses pay for the Savannah Port dredging and not US taxpayers.”

Hilarious. Because providing infrastructure that benefits the entire nation isn’t something that government is supposed to be doing. The ignorance of you Tea Party morons astounds me.

Rafe Hollister

November 17th, 2010
8:38 pm

So, your column implies that if earmarks are banned, then Georgia will never get any federal funds ever again. Wow, we better elect some more Dems to run up to DC and raid the Federal Treasury on our behalf.

If the project benefits the USA, it should be debated along with all the others from other states and money appropriated during normal budget allocations. Our projects should be compared to the others in our state and other states. The money we have to spend on projects should be spent on the best projects, those than offer the most benefits. Sneaking some earmark appropriation for port improvement in an education bill is ludicrous and defeats the budgeting process. All of this skulldudgery over earmarks incourages incumbancy. People want old Senator Adelbrain reelected because he has so much pull to get more of the peoples money spent in his state, than Senator Energetic, a freshman.


November 17th, 2010
8:54 pm

Dredging the port of Savannah will be a huge economic boon for the state in terms of jobs and the economy, but, of course, you right wingers are too narrow minded and short sighted to realize that.


November 17th, 2010
9:01 pm

Isn’t this bias what has reduced the AJC’s circulation so drastically over the years? I haven’t spent a cent on it in years.


November 17th, 2010
9:06 pm

It could be argued that this project falls within the Constitutional duties of the Federal Government {Interstate Commerce & Military purposes}. But that does not mean we should spend money we do not have to do it. A line MUST be drawn somewhere. ALL spending must be relentlessly scrutinized. We no longer have the luxury [actually we never did have that luxury – we just pretended we did] to spend at will on projects. We all must make sacrifices in our spending! Sure it would be great to have a deeper harbor to support the larger ships, but as Governor Christie discovered in the tunnel project, the funds just aren’t there! Being mature and responsible with the people’s money may sound like a new concept to many folks, but we simply cannot spend our way into Utopia.


November 17th, 2010
9:21 pm

Always pull out the “promise of jobs” card and throw in a few “short sighted right winger comments” and behold!!!!,… we have one angry red-faced Liberal!! So just to be clear – cause I’m jest a big’ol dumb conserva,….. censervet,…… cunservati,……. Oh you know wat I meen; … how many years out into my children’s or grandchildren’s devastated economic future do I need to go to lose the “narrow minded and short sighted” label? 10, 20, 50 years???? btw – that was so original.

Chief Wiggum

November 17th, 2010
9:22 pm

I think others have made this point, and I’ll echo it. If a project is beneficial, sell it to the particular agency that should fund it. If an agency brings down a budget to Congress that doesn’t include the beneficial projects, reject it, send it back, and have them re-do it. Democracy in action. If a project is beneficial, the congressmen for that particular state should explain to the other senators why it is.

I grew up in West Virginia, and that state (like some others) is so dependent on pork and earmarks, they think that is how government is supposed to operate. That is how folks running for Congress and the Senate run, especially Robert Byrd when he was alive, to brag about how much money they’ve brought back. It’s not magic money. The projects have to be paid for by someone.


November 17th, 2010
9:43 pm

This is so dumb. I guess this is the way it’s going to be, so lets see what happens. Except it wont just be the port of Savannah, it’s going to be millions of projects around the country that each Republican suddenly realizes require earmarks to exist. It’s pathetic. Tea Party extreme rightists who get enough clout to require things that they have no idea the effect they’ll have on everything.

Save the Children

November 17th, 2010
9:49 pm

Why should the federal government take tax money from citizens of the other 49 states to benefit the economy of coastal Georgia? Surely there is a port on the east coast already deep enough to receive these ships at no additional expense to the federal taxpayers. There’s $551 million in reduced appropriations right there. If it is so important to Georgia, the state should fund it and raise state tax revenues to pay for it. Repeat after me, “WE CAN’T AFFORD IT.” Over and over and over.

intown liberal

November 17th, 2010
10:02 pm

If the project is viable some (private) one should be willing to fund it. If it is vital our representatives should be able to sell it to their peers.

I have little in common with my tea party compatriots other than a desire to pay for the governament we choose.


November 17th, 2010
10:12 pm

The port needs deepened so we can import more chinese goods so they will have more money to loan us.


November 17th, 2010
10:14 pm

“millions of projects”? doubtful. You also have no idea of the negative long term effects these projects will have on our national debt and our future. If it’s “pathetic”, then bring on more “PATHETIC”!! I want boat loads of PATHETIC – as long as those boats fit in the Port of Savannah as it is today. LOL!


November 17th, 2010
10:52 pm

Save the Children

What makes you think collective action is so easily accomplished amongst private companies? It isn’t and that is why projects like this are funded by governments and it is also why we have taxes levied on corporations.

Grow up.


November 17th, 2010
11:22 pm

I can’t believe you Socialists. wanting the federal government to underwrite the cost of a state waterway. This is a red state and we must stick to our convictions and not allow the federal government to shove any dredging of our waterways. We can’t go back to taking anything that breathes the socialistic way of governing. ask the business community to begin a capital campaign contributions fund for the Savannah dredge effort. That way the feds can’t tell us how to spend the money or have any minorities and illegals on the job.

D Right One

November 17th, 2010
11:39 pm

Whoa, you guys voted for no Socialism in govt. Well, here’s your first chance at cutting the umbilical cord from the feds. Sounds like private enterprise can come up with the funds to do the dredging. (Crickets) Same for the federal highways and school funding. All schools should be private as well.


November 18th, 2010
12:09 am

Chickens are coming home to roost, but it is going to be a hard lesson. Georgia has for decades been a big net winner in getting money from the Feds. And it needs the money because it has consistently been one of the poorest states since the Civil War. Most of it isn’t earmarks but the political pork of having a highly placed Congressional delegation. Why else would Ga. have 100,000 troops at our bases? Is there some armed insurrection I haven’t heard about? Or the vast sums in everything from subsidies to peanut farmers to the bldg. of medical facilities both public and private? We better be careful—the next time we try to secede, the Feds may let us.

Alabama Communist

November 18th, 2010
12:17 am

More Breaking News On Earmark For Savannah Port…………In Spirit of compromise , the Tea Party said today they were willing to compromise on the Port by moving it to Lake Lanier and let Leroy’s Septic Tank Company dredge the Port of Savannah for $ 150.00 with a one time service call.


November 18th, 2010
12:44 am

Fourteen years! In 14 years they couldn’t dredge 6 feet of silt out of the river bottom. A crew of day laborers with teaspoons could have done it by now. Someone is milking the hell out of that project.

And no, governor, dredging the river is not … “the most important infrastructure target in the state”. That would be squaring away the water rights to Lake Lanier before metro Atlanta becomes a wasteland.


November 18th, 2010
12:59 am

@golf the water rights is actually not considered an infrastructure project.


November 18th, 2010
1:09 am

Actually it is … the reservoirs that will have to be built to replace the lost water rights are infrastructure.


November 18th, 2010
1:11 am

Why do you have to build reservoirs? Why not learn to conserve?


November 18th, 2010
1:17 am

@golf the awesome thing is that even your tag name “golf” implies a waste of water. Making sure that the fairways are kept all lush and green for ya.

The Centrist

November 18th, 2010
1:29 am

It was widely publicized that Robert Byrd was proud to say that he brought home the bacon, but didn’t Johnny just get re-elected saying he was a true conservative and would cut government spending? I guess he meant that he and the entire Georgia GOP delegation will now stop spending government funds since they are being called out. This brings new meaning to saying anything to get elected, but this time they will be held accountable to insure that all Southern conservative campaign promises are followed. Next up, cutting taxes does not increase the deficit.

The Centrist

November 18th, 2010
1:33 am

@HollyJ. Golf courses are normally built on flood plains and near natural water resources. This way Saxby and Boehner can claim that they are Teddy R. Republican conservatives by playing golf at least three times a week.


November 18th, 2010
1:47 am

Why not create a golf course using astroturf? Or would the bounce of the fairway be too harsh for folks like @golf? Kinda like the greens at the Augusta National (it’s like putting on concrete). I think that if Teddy was around today he would be kicking some serious butt.


November 18th, 2010
1:51 am

Oh wait. Teddy already dredged his own project. That whole Panama canal thingy.


November 18th, 2010
2:43 am

It has become clear to me now that only idiots submit comments.
Wait a minute! I’M SUBMITTING A COMMENT! AWW !@#$!!


November 18th, 2010
2:45 am

@Jay thats the best comment yet! lol


November 18th, 2010
2:57 am

Too funny. Georgia does a knee jerk vote for Republicans, then realizes that they’re cutting off their noses to spite their face.

Some of the idiots in the Senate, like Chip Rogers, have publicly flirted with secession.

So be it. If the state can’t afford to pay for infrastructure improvements, then they shouldn’t get done.

If you’re going to swoon over tea party Republicans, at least have the decency not to turn around and ask the feds for money.


November 18th, 2010
3:29 am

Ahhh. The chickens do what they do best. They come home to roost.

Logic 05

November 18th, 2010
6:23 am

I see this blog has been taken over by the left wing nut jobs.


November 18th, 2010
6:25 am

Now you will have to come bow down to me to get any money.

Now, that is change I can believe in.

Roy Barnes

November 18th, 2010
6:28 am

If you morons would have voted for me, I would make this job one….after I gave teachers the pay and respect they deserve.


November 18th, 2010
7:06 am

Just love this piece so much. Big Government is Bad! Earmarks are Bad! Unless they are needed in my district / state. Yes America. The GOP is SOOOOO much better than the Democrats. The same GOP featuring John McCain who says “Government is broken.” Something he’s been saying since the late 90’s but he hasn’t seem to figure a way to fix it……

Congratulations America. You have elected a class of morons and buffoons to Congress.

Double Zero Eight

November 18th, 2010
7:12 am

It is time for the GA senators “to put up or shut up”. They have the audacity to ask for special consideration for the port when they fought Obama at every opportunity on health care reform.
Are they naive enough to believe that he will go out of his way to help Georgia? Good luck
with that notion.

Bill Johnson

November 18th, 2010
7:16 am

Don’t let them have our money in the first place, and we won’t have to fight over how much they will give us back.

No earmarks – just a start. Now cut spending 10 % per year – just keep going…

Wallis the dog

November 18th, 2010
7:20 am

Essentially earmarks are taking another state’s/district’s money and spending it on a local project. I’m sure the folks in Iowa or Oklahoma would heartily support our port dredging and gleefully give up their local infrastructure project. Saxby should be fired.

Straight Talk

November 18th, 2010
7:31 am

Our country and our state, in 12-step terms, have both reached bottom. We either stay in our addiction to spending money we don’t have or we decide to start the recovery process and begin living within our means.

EVERYONE and every state in our country is going to have to bite the bullet in one or more ways if we hope to survive and once again prosper as a great country.

Here is a copy of an email I sent recently to Senator Chambliss with a copy to Senator Isakson on this topic:

Dear Saxby,

I strongly encourage you to read word-for-word the Solutions For America developed by Heritage Foundation:

EVERYONE in our country – and every government subsidized business and industry – is going to have to live with less.

This includes the agriculture interests which you have supported for so long.

A key part of living within our means is going to be cutting out earmarks – as proposed by Sen. DeMint.

As the recent election results clearly showed all of us conservatives are now going to have to continually put our money and our votes where our principles are supposed to lie – if we are to earn the right to govern in 2012 and beyond.

Thank you.


November 18th, 2010
8:04 am

The hypocrite Georgia senators and Kingston who’s district includes Savannah, and the rest are having to fall in line – after all, Johnny ran on a platform which included stopping “runaway spending.” Kingston has a record of voting against projects he knows will pass anyway and then showing up at the ceremonies to take credit for them.

Let the harbor fill up with silt and maybe these jackels will be voted out of office. Georgia deserves what it elects. Maybe Let’s Make a Deal Deal can get a state contract for a new dredging business he will probably setup.


November 18th, 2010
8:16 am

I’m a conservative and i see where it says that there will be a four dollar return for every dollar spent.I don’t know about that.I think if thats true then private money should be used.Maybe Arthur Blank can use the money he’s not using to build his new stadium.

Save the Children

November 18th, 2010
8:41 am

I went back and read my comment to see what I forgot. Nowhere did I mention collective action of corporations. I said that the state should pay for it if they think it’s that important. Otherwise, we should conserve financial resources and use ports that are already capable of handling ships of this size. The jobs to handle the cargo from China will still be created on the east coast (and lost from the west coast), they just won’t be in Georgia.