By Maria Saporta
Don’t panic. That was the basic message that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed shared about the lack of funding for the deepening of the Savannah port in the President Barack Obama’s budget that was released last week.
Reed spoke to local business and civic leaders Tuesday during a luncheon speech at the Commerce Club — where he said the news of President’s budget failure to include the federal share of had been misrepresented.
By tapping his Democratic connections within the Obama administration in Washington, D.C., Reed has been one of Georgia’s leading advocates for the deepening of the Savannah port. He has been working closely with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on those efforts — highlighting their cooperative bi-partisan relationship.
“I was out of town when they were talking about the port,” Reed said. “Let’s not get pulled into this crap. We need to maintain this bi-partisan focus. This stuff is hard. When is the last time someone gave you $400 million?”
According to Reed, first the U.S. Congress must reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act of 1996 to update the project estimates of the Savannah port deepening project to $652 million. Currently the Water Resources Development Act is in a Congressional conference committee.
Had the president put the Savannah port in his budget before the reauthorization of the Act, the project would have been subject to a spending cap.
“We would have been $200 million short,” Reed told the Commerce Club audience.
The state of Georgia already has committed $250 million in the deepening of the Savannah port, and it has been hoping to get the federal funding to get the project fully underway so it could be prepared to handle the mega-cargo ships that will be able to navigate the Panama Canal once that project is complete.
When Obama did not include funding for the port in his budget, numerous elected leaders — including Gov. Deal and the state’s Republican congressional delegation — criticized the president for playing politics and for not being a loyal supporter of the project.
Reed spokesman Carlos Campos provided further detail of the mayor’s position.
“He believes funding for the port will be in the Water Resources Development Act,” Campos said. “He believes that is a spending bill, and it is now in a conference committee.”