The state of Georgia is in a race against time and federal budget issues to get one of its most important economic projects completed. As a result, Atlanta’s mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat, partnered with the state’s GOP Gov. Nathan Deal to pitch the “deepening” of the Port of Savannah to officials in Washington, D.C.
The port expansion would add an additional six feet at the bottom of the Savannah River in the area. The extra room would accommodate even larger cargo ships that will pass through the Panama Canal – a major global shipping point that will face its own upgrade by 2014. The work on Savannah’s port would need to be included in either the fiscal year 2012 or 2013 budgets to keep up with the Panama Canal work.
Deal and Reed were in Washington, D.C. on June 1 to work on the details the Port of Savannah project with members of Congress from Georgia. After the meeting, the governor said he believes that they will only get about two-thirds of the $105 million in federal funds they requested for the project.
Reed, on the other hand, was more optimistic in public about Georgia’s chance at federal funds.
“I believe that we are going to be successful in obtaining a significant appropriation before the budget process concludes,” Mayor Reed told the American Association of Port Authorities at their meeting last week in Savannah.
Some may wonder why a mayor of a city 250 miles from the port is one of the key players negotiating its upgrade. The answer is simple. An expanded port in Savannah has a direct impact on economic interests in metro Atlanta, which is by far the state’s economic engine and most populous area. The issue also has a federal perspective, noting that the expanded port will increase shipping and trade options for the U.S. at a time of economic uncertainty.
“The deepening of the Savannah port is consistent with the priorities of the nation. It is exactly in line with the president’s focus on increasing the export capability for the U.S.,” said Reed.
Savannah, however, isn’t the only U.S. port looking at additional funds. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, several major ports along the Atlantic seaboard from New York to Miami are looking for additional federal funds for the same upgrades. The federal government is already heavily in debt and lawmakers are now more averse to public spending on pet projects such as ports.
Reed stepped forward as one of the primary pitchmen for the Georgia project because of his close ties to the Obama White House. He has made two appearances in 2011 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to discuss various Administration policies and their effects on cities and the president’s chances for re-election. Already in the past eight months, Mayor Reed has appeared at the White House twice for a transportation summit and a separate meeting about the economy.