You’ll recall this $652 million project, the single most significant one to Georgia’s economy at present, is backed by both major parties. And it was purportedly so important to the Obama administration Vice President Joe Biden was sent to Savannah last year to proclaim that “come hell or high water” the harbor would be deepened to take care of larger ships soon to arrive via the upgraded Panama Canal. More delay could send the big ships to competing ports on the Eastern seaboard. The Port of Savannah, the fourth busiest in the nation, supports tens of thousands of jobs in Georgia.
Biden’s theatrics turned out to be just that. When Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget was released in March, no money was included for construction on the Savannah project, only $1.52 million for more preparation. This happened in the face of language in the appropriations bill passed in January, which Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss said gave the administration “clear direction” to start construction and request the necessary funds.
Trying to move ahead, Gov. Nathan Deal declared the state would use more than $231 million already allocated for its share. The White House rejected that plan, insisting that nothing would be done until the long-delayed water projects bill is approved by Congress and claiming it’s all about authorization — a ludicrous line from an administration that willy-nilly changes laws to suit its purposes.
It’s not about politics, an OMB spokesman told the New York Times. But there’s speculation the White House is playing politics to keep Georgia Republicans from taking credit for the huge project before the Senate election to pick Chambliss’ successor. No doubt, differences in spending philosophies play a big role, too. The Democrat-controlled Senate’s version of the bill was for $12 billion versus the Republican-controlled House bill’s $8.2 billion.
Nevertheless, if the Obama administration wanted to expedite the Savannah Harbor project — as Biden signaled more than six months ago — it wouldn’t be hung up on this “authorization” excuse after the Congress overwhelmingly gave the green light in January. So what does that leave except politics?
The straw in the wind is this from the Times article Saturday: “House and Senate negotiators hope to reach a final deal after lawmakers return next week and start advancing the agreement toward passage.” No sources were cited but let’s hope the hope is realized and the bill gets approved by Congress and signed by the president. This is no time for the same old politics.
Correction: Friday’s column said Cobb commissioners wanted to pay “nearly three-quarters of a million dollars” for a salary study. It should have been “nearly one-third of a million dollars.” The actual amount was $326,420 for an outside consultant to do the study.