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Is port project spending pork?
Legislative update
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No more federal earmarks!
For some, this is the battle cry of how to get our federal budget in order.
In fact, some feel these directives should be mandated and members of Congress should be required to sign an oath pledging their support.
But what exactly is a federal earmark?
When most of the general public is asked to give an example of a federal earmark, they refer to the “Bridge to Nowhere,” the infamous $400 million bridge in Alaska that would have connected the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, with an island of about 50 residents.
Pushed by members of the Alaskan Congressional delegation, the project became the poster child of pork barrel spending, encountered fierce opposition and was removed from the federal budget.
But while this particular project was stopped, it did manage to give lasting negative connotations to the term “earmarks.”
In its simplest explanation, earmarks are projects that are not included in the president’s budget proposal but are added by Congress as guarantees of federal expenditures for projects in their area.
So if the Savannah Harbor deepening project is not included in the president’s fiscal year 2012 budget proposal but is added by a member of Georgia’s Congressional delegation through some appropriation or general legislation, is this an earmark?
Technically, yes. Therein lies the danger of labeling.
How can the deepening of the Savannah Harbor, one of the most important economic development projects in modern history in the state of Georgia, possibly be considered an earmark? After all, the statewide impact of the Georgia Ports is well known:
• 300,000 jobs – 7 percent of Georgia’s total employment.
• $61.7 billion in sales – 9 percent of Georgia’s total sales.
• $15.5 billion in income – 5 percent of Georgia’s total personal income.
• $3.5 billion in federal taxes.
• $2.6 billion in state and local taxes.
And it’s more than just our state. The whole southeastern United States benefits from the Georgia Ports.
We get it. Congress and state legislators get it. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed gets it. Business leaders across our state get it.
We all understand that if we don’t get this project completed it means more than just not moving forward. It means we will be at a competitive disadvantage and that our ports will suffer as a result.
The best solution, and the one our port and state leaders are pushing, is to have the president include this project in his FY 2012 proposal.
While it may be difficult for the president to choose one port over another, we believe that Georgia’s port makes a compelling argument.
The Port of Savannah is the fastest growing container port in the nation and the second largest on the East Coast, responsible for moving 8.3 percent of the U.S. containerized cargo volume and more than 18 percent of all East Coast container trade.
Serving about 21,000 companies in all 50 states, more than 75 percent of which have headquarters outside of Georgia, the Port of Savannah handled 12 percent of all U.S. containerized exports in FY 2010. Exports, of course, are what will drive economic recovery for our nation, and the Port of Savannah is one of the few in the nation that has a balanced export-import ratio.
And Georgia has stepped up to the plate. We have committed more than $100 million in bond funds to our share of the project cost and continue to invest in port infrastructure, such as $121 million for the extension of the Jimmy Deloach Parkway.
We’re also further along in the process than most other ports. Just last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended dredging the channel and noted the economic impact the project would have on our area and our nation.
Regardless of whether it’s through the president’s budget proposal or through a Congressional action, the federal government needs to step up to the plate.
They are, after all, responsible for keeping the waterways cleared so they can be navigated.
And if it has to be through Congressional action, don’t call it an earmark, at least not one of the pork kind.
While technically it may be labeled as such, an economic development project of this magnitude is anything but pork.

Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 302-B, Atlanta, Ga., 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.

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