ATLANTA – Release of President Barack Obama’s budget recommendations Tuesday drew immediate criticism from Gov. Nathan Deal for including only $42 million for the deepening of the Savannah River ship channel.
Deal had said that any amount less than $90 million would put the project further behind schedule and jeopardize the Port of Savannah’s market share.
“That request, which underfunds arguably the most critical dredging project in the country, appears to be the largest of any deep draft navigation projects in the president’s budget,” said Deal in a statement from his office. “This underscores yet again the need for greater investment by the federal government.”
The governor and other state officials say the channel needs to be 5 feet deeper to accommodate the larger freighters the will be able to transit the Panama Canal which is being widened. They argue that delay provides incentive for shippers to use other ports that are already deep enough for the big ships.
Georgia has put up roughly $266 million as its share of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, or SHEP. The federal government must come up with 60 percent of the funds for the $706 million initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which is already underway.
While the $42 million is less than half of what Deal wanted, it’s twice what Washington ponied up in the current budget.
He said he’ll ask the members of the state’s congressional delegation to find additional federal funding.
“I’m confident they will do everything possible to prioritize funding for the Army Corps of Engineers’ SHEP construction to ensure the project stays on track for completion within five years,” he said. “The federal government gave Georgia its word and must do more to uphold its obligations.”
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s senior senator and a Republican like Deal, blasted the overall design budget design offered by Obama, a Democrat.
“The president’s budget further demonstrates that his priorities are out of step with the needs of hardworking Georgians,” said Isakson. “For example, he actually proposes cutting critical public-health programs such as helping states clean up the rivers and lakes that supply our drinking water, as well as reducing the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget by over 20 percent, making it harder to keep important infrastructure projects such as the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project running on time and on budget.”
He characterized Obama’s budget as “the same liberal agenda and waste opportunities that this president has presented to Congress year after year.”
“I am extremely disappointed that the president is shortchanging a critical infrastructure project such as SHEP while instead spending $300 billion on new ‘green’ projects and levying a new oil tax on hardworking families,” Isakson said. “The administration has inflicted irresponsible cuts on the Army Corps of Engineers’ overall budget.”
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican who represents Savannah and the coast, also expressed displeasure. He also heaped partisan criticism on the spending proposal.
“Even by increasing taxes by $3.4 trillion and spending by $2.5 trillion over the next decade, the budget released today confirms the deplorable reality that this president will leave office never providing a budget that balances,” he said.
Regarding the river deepening project, Carter was blunt.
“This project is essential for jobs and economic growth in the First District, the Southeast, and the entire nation and this administration must realize this truth and prioritize the project,” he said. “This has been a long fight which is clearly not over, and I will do everything in my power to ensure the federal government meets the commitment of the state.”
In his message delivering the budget to Congress, Obama stressed that his approach fit within the constraints of prior negotiations with the legislative branch.
“My budget makes critical investments while adhering to the bipartisan budget agreement I signed into law last fall, and it lifts sequestration in future years so that we continue to invest in our economic future and our national security,” he said. “It also drives down deficits and maintains our fiscal progress through smart savings from health care, immigration, and tax reforms.”
Sequestration is an automatic freeze on certain spending included in the Budget Control Act of 2011. It was designed to be draconian as a way to prod lawmakers into coming up with significant spending cuts or face the automatic reductions.
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