In lieu of a federal earmark, a handful of South Carolina lawmakers are trying fund a controversial harbor deepening study for the Port of Charleston with a “state earmark.”
So far, they’re not having much luck …
On Wednesday, a S.C. House Ways and Means budget proviso that would have funded the first phase of this environmental impact study was withdrawn before lawmakers had a chance to vote on it.
The $3.4 million study is one of several regulatory hurdles that must be cleared before the Army Corps of Engineers can deepen Charleston harbor. The Corps requires these studies (and a cost share with state governments) because once the projects are completed the federal government is on the hook for 100 percent of the costs associated with maintaining the new harbor depth.
The money to pay for the initial $400,000 study was to have come from the Coordinating Council for Economic Development, a bureaucratic agency that was created in 1986 to facilitate “improved coordination of economic development efforts by those state agencies involved in the recruitment of new business and the expansion of current enterprises throughout the state.”
(Seriously … we’ve got so many agencies involved in “economic development” in this state that we need a separate agency just to keep track of all of them).
Anyway, the proviso would have authorized state funds to be expended on October 1, 2011 in the event federal funding was not secured by then.
Sponsored by S.C. Reps Tracy Edge (R-Myrtle Beach), Chip Limehouse (RINO-Charleston) and Jimmy Merrill (RINO-Berkeley), the proviso was withdrawn at the request of the S.C. State Ports Authority, which is adamant that this study be paid for with federal funds.
This battle over the study’s funding has become a focal point for those who want to continue to the wasteful practice of earmark spending in Washington, D.C. It has also become a rallying cry against U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, who has encountered newfound success in his war against pork barrel spending.
Meanwhile, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley has criticized the use of provisos at the state level.
Currently, Charleston harbor has a depth of 47 feet in its entrance channel and 45 feet through the remainder of its shipping lanes. Port officials want to increase these depths to 50 feet, and then extend the new maximum depth by two miles to “reach the needed ocean contours for length of channel.”
This $400,000 is part of a $3.4 million study that would assess the environmental impact of deepening the harbor. The actual deepening itself would cost between $300-400 million.
Are those expenses core functions of government? Surprisingly, President Barack Obama didn’t think so … leaving them out of his FY 2012 budget.
We’re not necessarily sold on the notion that they are core expenses, either – although as we’ve said before deepening Charleston harbor is a far better use of tax dollars than spending billions of dollars to send a bunch of “green jobs” overseas, which Obama has done.
We can also say that failing to entertain public-private partnerships in the management of our port infrastructure – an ongoing problem for our state – contributes mightily to our port problem. If our state was leveraging private investment in its port system, coming up with $3.4 million (particularly in anticipation of federal reimbursement) would be no big deal.