A taboo topic: Picking up the tab for Port of Savannah deepening

If asked to identify the most forbidden topic in the state Capitol, the taboo of all taboos, a stranger would naturally run a finger down the list of standard human frailties.

Very likely, he would think, one ought not to blab about the fellow who is smooching someone whom he ought not to smooch. Or perhaps we should kill the chatter about the lobbyist with the large and accommodating wallet.

Both choices would be well off point. These days, the one thing you must never, ever mention publicly in the Capitol is the possibility that, in this scourge of an economy, with classrooms crying out for teachers and roads crumbling, the state of Georgia might be required to pony up $600 million to lower the bottom of the Savannah River.

At the Port of Savannah, containers are off-loaded from a mammoth overseas vessel and are moved to a container field for processing and transportation to the final destination. Special/Russ Bryant

At the Port of Savannah, containers are off-loaded from a mammoth overseas vessel and are moved to a container field for processing and transportation to the final destination. Special/Russ Bryant

For more than two years, public officials from Georgia have sought federal assistance for a 6-foot dredging of the Port of Savannah. The effort has produced a remarkable, bipartisan alliance between Democratic Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Gov. Nathan Deal and other Republicans.

Another miracle showed itself just two months ago: Only weeks after the desperate August debate over raising the debt ceiling, two of the state’s most unbending tea partyers in Congress — Republicans Tom Graves and Paul Broun — stepped down from their battlements for a brief moment.

They joined 11 other members of the Georgia congressional delegation to sign a letter “respectfully” requesting President Barack Obama to consider cash for the Port of Savannah in his 2013 budget.

At issue is 2014, the year that larger cargo ships will begin plying between the Eastern Seaboard and China through an expanded Panama Canal. If they can’t fit into the Savannah harbor, the ships and a whole mess of jobs will go elsewhere.

The messaging from Georgia has been fiercely disciplined: 1) The Port of Savannah is a fundamental element of the state economy, including metro Atlanta; and 2) because the Savannah River is a national waterway, the federal government is obliged to help.

Two years ago, a pair of state lawmakers declared that the Port of Savannah was so important to the state that, if the feds wouldn’t cooperate, then — by God — Georgia should go it alone.

They were told to hush. And hush they did.

But as the extent of the gridlock in Washington has become clear, tongues have begun to loosen. This spring, Deal acknowledged that federal funding might not be forthcoming — and yet the dredging would still have to happen.

Shortly afterward, the governor trimmed the state’s annual bond package — the amount we use to finance school and college construction projects — down from nearly $1 billion under Sonny Perdue to $630 million. Some think Deal did so to prepare for things to come.

Last week, it was U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Savannah, who described prospects of help from a bare federal cupboard as “dim.”

“I don’t think anyone wants to talk about it too much because it tends to take pressure off the feds — to not step up and assume what is essentially and inherently a federal responsibility,” Barrow said. “I don’t want to reward ignorance or indolence.”

Eighteen percent of all imported goods bought or sold east of the Mississippi River first flow through Savannah.

Other ports also need federal funding, Barrow conceded. “Ours just happens to be the fastest-growing on the Eastern Seaboard. It just happens to be far and away the most efficient — which is why so many shippers are willing to take the time and trouble to snake 12 miles up the Savannah River to berth at our port. Because once they get there, those containers are gone lickety-split.”

But again, there is an indisputable bottom line. “We ought to be deepening the port even if we have to have a bake sale to do it,” Barrow said.

As if the world had that many cupcakes.

Should Georgia go it alone, the dredging would be the largest single economic development project ever undertaken by state government. It would carry a terrific price. “It would eat up almost every dollar of the bond package,” said state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Individual lawmakers pride themselves on the local projects funded with that borrowed money. They would be loath to give them up for one year — much less two or three.

“The majority of them will see this as a Savannah project. But this is just something that happens to be in Savannah,” Harbin said. “If our back were against the wall and the governor became engaged and the [House] speaker became engaged, yes, I think we could do it.

“It would take a lot of arm-twisting,” Harbin said. “But it could also not happen.”

One worry would immediately crop up: A dysfunctional Senate still split by a leadership fight between Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. After nearly a year of turmoil, no one is exactly sure who is in charge of forcing difficult votes.

So, as was proved in the August special session, sometimes those votes don’t happen.

Another worry: The failure of next year’s statewide referendums on a transportation sales tax would only increase the Legislature’s reluctance to funnel most of the state’s venture capital into a single project.

In other words, Georgia needs to start applying for quite a few more miracles.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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60 comments Add your comment

honested

October 15th, 2011
11:28 am

But Jim, if we don’t waste the money to make Savannah a guaranteed second tier port, how will sonny keep his ‘purdue trucking’ trucks full?

The simple fact that Savannah is the least appropriate port on the East Coast for modification to ’super panamax’ ships should be a side issue. That such ships cannot pass or turn around in the Savannah River or port areas is a minor issue (ships do have reverse). The nagging problem of coming several miles up river past the largest liquified natural gas facility in the world should leave no concern for groundings. That spending the money in Charleston or Norlfolk makes so much more sense is a side issue.
Sonny and a cabal of people oblivious to fact have made up their minds, it is our job to blindly follow.
Look at how effective following this example has served us since 2003!

Corey

October 15th, 2011
11:32 am

What big, forward thinking venture has come to fruition since Republicans took over state governmen?

Sadie Fields

October 15th, 2011
11:44 am

I vote that the Tea Party hold a major fundraiser. That would be a great start for their stand on less government. Shame on tea party congressmen graves and broun. What liars and hypocrites. What do u think about that centrist? Should Feds pay, the corporations that make billions(kaolin) or Tea Party!?!?

Why Chipper Why?

October 15th, 2011
11:44 am

Why dont they cozey up to one of Obama’s advisors? If a few phone calls can get 500 million for Solyndra and 1.2 billion for SunPower why cant we bribe someone to get 600 million for a worthwhile project?

Or we can bring back the illegals and make them pay $10 a week for a temporary work visa. The state would make that 600 million in one year.

Free advice!

Oh and would Chipper Jones please go ahead and retire. Its bad enough that we have to compete against teams that spend twice what we do a year. Why do we have to give up 12% of our payroll on a always gimpy .270 hitter with average power?

taxpayer

October 15th, 2011
11:46 am

The proposed Savannah River deepening project is such a waste of taxpayer money it makes that bridge to nowhere in Alaska look responsible.
13 ports on the east coast are trying to deepen to become hub ports. Savannah is the worst situated to be a hub of them all. Just like a Georgia transportation plan, a coordinated plan for the east coast ports does not exist.

Kwaleanna

October 15th, 2011
11:52 am

Yesterday the federal government (USDA) announced a $1.2 million grant to a UGA researcher to study pecan nutrition. But there is no money to dredge the Port of Savannah. Man are our priorities ever screwed up.

jconservative

October 15th, 2011
12:02 pm

I thought Republicans were going to reduce Federal spending?

Reduce the size of the Georgia government and there is plenty of state money to dig a deeper ditch in Savannah.

Or turn it over to the Chinese and let them run the port like they run the Panama Canal.

Or sell it to Warren Buffett.

Or get Georgia parolees to go down and dig the ditch. just after they get through picking the watermelons and blueberries. Watermelons come first!

catlady

October 15th, 2011
12:05 pm

YEAH, let’s sink every bond cent into this inappropriate use of money, just so sonny and his minions can make millions. Of course, there is no better use! ALL tax money needs to go to support the additional wealth-accumulation of all these “self-made” millionaires while the middle class is bled dry! I mean, we all have to have someone to “aspire” to be like, don’t we?!

[...] Story brought to you by Savannah GA – Bing News [...]

Unemployed in S GA

October 15th, 2011
12:10 pm

If you sit at the Savannah docks very long, and watch the ship traffic, you will see that there are a lot more foreign ships coming in than there are domstic ships going out. In fact, the last time I was there, I counted 14 incoming foreign ships and not a single outgoing American ship in a 3 hour span.
Not only would deepening the river have tremendous environmental impact, it would added more fuel to our declining employment, widening trade deficite, and overall decline of the American economny.
The money is not there. We can not afford to continue to bring in foreign goods (mostly for Walmart)and, we will never fix our economny as long as we continue to do more inporting than exporting.

ricardus

October 15th, 2011
12:12 pm

To hell with Hussein Obama and the federal government. Savannah harbour is Georgia’s responsibility and we should fund that 600 milion dollar dredging operation. Savannah harbour is a very important resource to Georgia and we must face up to our responsibilities and leave the federal government out of it…and their regulations and restrictions!

Aquagirl

October 15th, 2011
12:12 pm

Man are our priorities ever screwed up.

Yes, when we think digging six feet out of a river for political reasons > nutrition and science, there are surely some people who need both hands and a flashlight.

ricardus

October 15th, 2011
12:14 pm

…and in addition to hell with the environmentalists and their impacts. Environmentalists are not in the majority and in the United states, majority rules!

DC

October 15th, 2011
12:27 pm

Yeah, wouldn’t want to use our federal tax dollars…that we Georgians send to washington under the threat of arrest and incarceration, to actually provide something useful for our state and economy. Heck no, let’s sit back and let the jobs go the SC, or other….where they will use our tax money to deepen their ports.

Oh, and btw, if the federal govt will agree to not take our tax money, and then “graciously” give back .85 cents on the dollar to us for our own projects, then I’d gladly have GA pay for it.

What is the sense of this article/column?? As usual, absolutely no idea…….

Jackie

October 15th, 2011
12:58 pm

Just tell the press and the democrats that this is a Green Jobs Project. Then Obama will throw money at it. If it’s for infrastructure improvements, its going to be a tough sell since it might not hire SEIU members.

USAF Retired

October 15th, 2011
1:06 pm

Jackie nails it. ;-)

yellowdog

October 15th, 2011
1:08 pm

“cant we just get along?” you elected these bozos to do a job…they should be turning in the per diem we pay them to dredge the port. while they let education fall down the rabbut hole.

td

October 15th, 2011
1:11 pm

You libs are a little puzzling on this issue. You want jobs, you scream about jobs and then you oppose a project that will bring jobs to complete and then sustain jobs for the long term and you are against it. This is one of those shovel ready project that Obama has been looking for that could be started almost immediantly. I guess you really do not want jobs you just want an issue to complain about.

Robert

October 15th, 2011
1:17 pm

How much does our Federal Gov’t spend in foreign nations to rebuild their infrastructure?
Just asking…
Perhaps it is time to let sovreign nations foot their own bills.
$1.2 billion annually to Egypt and $1.3 billion to Israel so the two nations will be friendly to each other? WTF?

LDH

October 15th, 2011
1:23 pm

Why should voters (read ordinary people) pay to increase the profits of businesses?
Tax the businesses and industries that benefit!

DannyX

October 15th, 2011
1:24 pm

Why not a Lexus Lane for the port? Or an eternal toll booth to fund the project? Maybe a Georgia Power surcharge to pay for it. How about you privatize it?

Have our Republican leaders come up with any offsets yet?

DannyX

October 15th, 2011
1:34 pm

How about we set up a “Pray For Port Expansion” day? That should do it.

DannyX

October 15th, 2011
1:38 pm

Another idea, the state could get one of those “there is know way we could ever pay it back” Tom Graves type of loan.

Just Nasty & Mean

October 15th, 2011
1:39 pm

Well….here’s a shovel-ready project Oblabla keeps waging about, that will actually help the economy and put people to work BUUT NOOOOO! Oblablama is not going to use his private slush fund for campaign kickbacks to actually do some freakin good!! He’s looking for more Solyndra and SunPowers to swell his campaign chest.

Michael Marr

October 15th, 2011
1:40 pm

Hypocritical heads are exploding. Except the politicians of course. They always say one thing and do another.

td

October 15th, 2011
2:18 pm

LDH

October 15th, 2011
1:23 pm
Why should voters (read ordinary people) pay to increase the profits of businesses?

Why should voter (tax paying members) pay for FS and other welfare programs for people that have made bad decisions and do not want to take the consequences for their decisions?

At least then money will trickle down to my benefit instead of someone else in my wallet to be lazy.

David Green

October 15th, 2011
2:22 pm

Actually td what the lib’s really want is for the con repub’s to stay true to their stated convictions instead of wobbling like a weeble whenever it is convenient to do so. Talking about personal responsibility while sucking on the federal teat is like the pot calling the kettle black.

thewindwhistler

October 15th, 2011
2:40 pm

Charleston should be the port of entry on the south east coast, it is a progressive city. Savannah is in a time warp, part in the last century and part in John Calhouns day. You know I am right, time to move on.

td

October 15th, 2011
2:41 pm

David Green

October 15th, 2011
2:22 pm

This is where you and other libs do not understand the conservative position. There is no conservative that says there should be NO Federal spending and NO Federal government. The vast majority of conservatives believe that the Federal government role should be limited. You know like having to balance a budget and not spend more than 18% of the GDP every year. We also feel the Federal government should not create and entire entitlement class of able bodied people that depend on the government for their subsistence for their entire live. You can not have 25% of the population receiving Food Stamps and survive as a nation for long. You can not have people draw unemployment for 4 years with not job and survive as a nation. You can not have the Federal government control 1/6 of the entire economy (Obamacare) and survive as a nation. You can not have the top 10% pay 80% of all taxes while the bottom 47% pay nothing and survive as a nation.

We must turn this insane socialist agenda around and get back to being a great nation where people that want to make wise decisions, get a good education and work hard can succeed.

ghp_fan

October 15th, 2011
2:43 pm

Can anybody say “tax increase”?

native atlantan

October 15th, 2011
2:43 pm

@ricardus — go back to school dude….majority DOESN’T rule…..jeez…

Bill Gates

October 15th, 2011
2:44 pm

Have Warren Buffet write the check and allow him to use it as a tax deductible expense :)

Bill Gates

October 15th, 2011
2:45 pm

Should we have a “Occupy the Savannah Port” protest and force “the rich” to pay for it? Who’s in with me???

findog

October 15th, 2011
2:46 pm

td, I’m sorry but this is not shovel ready as the great State of South Carolina has not signed off. Last I checked there were not too many liberal democrats in the palmetto state. So you whiny snits that want to blame the EPA and that other demon democratic devil spawn; aka federal regulation, need to put your big boy pants on and acept that the State of Georgia has to “raise taxes” to support internal economic development.

double

October 15th, 2011
2:49 pm

TD you are the one puzzling.You say we want handouts.Now you are saying we want jobs.We want entitlements,paid for by the conservatives with jobs.

td

October 15th, 2011
3:05 pm

double

October 15th, 2011
2:49 pm

“We want entitlements,paid for by the conservatives with jobs.”

And this is where the battle is taking place. Time will tell if we are going to be a nation with a work ethic or a nation of lazy a$$ people that do not want to do anything but whine for more free stuff.

I think I agree with a few liberial commentators I have heard the last few weeks. “There will be blood shed in the streets” over this battle.

Cobbian

October 15th, 2011
4:27 pm

Should this be a federal project? All the hoopla over all this time about federal spending being too much! And we want money for roads, money for light rail, money for studying whether we should have buses, roads, or trains, money for dredging harbors – money, money, money – from the feds. And, those who are hollerin’ for the money are the ones who holler about taxes being too high, poor people don’t pay enough taxes, and – the biggest lie of all – cutting taxes creates jobs. They are just jumpin’ up and down in delight at the idea that we should get rid of the inheritance tax – the one that affects 0.4% of estates and would cost the US treasury $1 trillion over the next ten years. (For those who are not sure what that is, it is point zero zero zero four of all estates and, yes, that is “trillion” with a “t”.)

Think we could keep the inheritance tax long enough to dredge a few harbors, build some rail lines, and maybe fight off terrorists?

double

October 15th, 2011
4:35 pm

Cobbian most what you say I agree,except the cutting taxes part.Taxes and cheap labor reason our companies go yo other countries.

Georgia Voter

October 15th, 2011
5:01 pm

A deeper port will mean NO additional port traffic and no additional jobs. All it would mean is a waste of tax dollars and a debt Georgia Citiizens will be paying off for generations. I vote NO on river deepening, but then the public will not get a chance to vote on this issue. However, in Nov 2012 we can vote against those in office that supported it.

double

October 15th, 2011
5:04 pm

100 military advisors to central Africa.Remove all troops from Iraq by year end.Except ones assigned to embassy.Obama doing his job.

The Goobernator

October 15th, 2011
6:07 pm

Let Wal-Mart pay for it since it receives so much Chinese junk there.

No Teabagging

October 15th, 2011
6:15 pm

What would the Tea Party do? Destroy environmental protection laws, turn it over to private business, let them pay for it, and turn a blind eye to any environmental damage. If it good for big business, then they will pay for it. Big Business will reap the profits in the Tea Party ‘free market that can take of itself’ mentality, which by the way, brought us the derivative crash of the entire economy. Thanks Tea Party!

Frederick Douglass

October 15th, 2011
6:34 pm

@ricardus

Go back to England, or Canada, or wherever you’re from…..the harbour reference gave you away.

Buymadeinusjobs

October 15th, 2011
6:55 pm

Lets not buy those new products from American multi national corporations. Let us let the corporations sell their new products to their workers wherever they are.

Look on internet or locally for new products which have label MADE IN THE U. S. .

If you cannot find it new, buy item used from charity stores like salvation army , most junk will cost about the fourth of new price and your money will stay locally and charity will help your neighbor. You can also buy from craig,s list/neighbors.

I read repubs. redistricted Barrow district to favor repub. The repub incl. GA’s have voted NO NO NO to eveyrthing P. Obama wanted so even if he has money, I hope He gives You A big No, Heck no.

I think he had a few billions in the jobs bill for building infrastucture and the 442 billion dollar cost was being offset by a 5.6 % tax on millionaires but Filibuster Senator Mcconnel and his radical republicans filibusted/voted no.

House repub Cantor said no for FEMA funds but his letter to to FEMA wanting it for VA disaster/earthquake was demanding. I dislike hypocrites.

He also gets 118 billion of stimulus/government spending for military /, defense contractors etc each year but he does not want stimulus for everyone else.

Greg

October 15th, 2011
7:09 pm

Here’s to small government: no money for this project at all. If its worthwhile then the private enterprise will fund it. No more government waste. Let the city of Savannah fund it as an ode to local control or let it die on the vine. Reagan was right!

freestyle

October 15th, 2011
8:44 pm

Fact is, lights out, game over, case closed. The rubeocracy of Georgia has lost out again. Ignorance has its limits. New York, Baltimore, Norfolk and Miami are already fully funded, and provide all the deep water capacity any marginally informed person knows Savannah never, ever could. Fools might think Savannah is 12 miles up a narrow, winding channel, but it is actually 38 miles up the channel which would have to be cut for the post-panamax giants. Enough to scrap the project for any half-conscious rube. River port. Very limited access. Who ever thought it would ever be first port of call for the big ships?
Well, Georgia could do much better. Atlanta is the natural focus for the goods moving up from Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah, and Charleston on their way to the Midwest. Billions are to be made on this, but that would require a whole other and better class of rubes.
Freestyle-Savannah

Cherokee

October 16th, 2011
12:14 am

No way should the feds help with this. The brain dead Repubs running state goverment here have been standing and shaking their fist at the feds for the last couple years. Why should the rest of American help out the rubes in Georgia who vote for these clowns?

Pay for it ourselves, or don’t do it.

double

October 16th, 2011
4:31 pm

Not familiar with area.Why dredge move port.

Rockerbabe

October 16th, 2011
4:49 pm

Umm. . .I think the Savannah dredging project is a very worthy endeavor and should be pursued. Now, however, since the GOPers and that includes Gov Deal and the 2 senators and the various republican rep to the House have spent the better part of the last 3 years badmouthing the President and calling him aweful names, the fact that he would even lower himself to be in the same city with these spoiled brats is well, the mark of a gentleman and a statesman.

The GOP is a big believer in states rights. . .let the states handle their own affairs. . .well, boys handle the widening of the Savannah port on your own. . .show all of us just it is done! Stop depending on the “big, bad, ineffective DC government” to solve your problems and do it yourself!