Will Georgia taxpayers have to pay entire $650 million for dredging?

I posted last week about South Carolina’s growing resolve to fund the proposed deepening of the Charleston harbor with state monies. The project has not been fully studied and is likely years away from approval, but ballpark estimates put the pricetag around $300 million.

I don’t know if that has been a factor in this week’s pretty big news here in Georgia that Governor Deal seems prepared for state taxpayers to foot the entire bill for the $652 million Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), which has been approved to dredge the long Savannah River channel from 42 to 47 feet.

As I’ve previously noted, that depth will still leave the channel shallower than all the major competing East Coast ports.

And as I’ve written about ad infinitum, the depth — 42′, 47′, 48′, or 50′ — is absolutely irrelevant to the amount of cargo the Savannah port will see each year until about 2030, when the port’s capacity will be maxed out, according to the Corps of Engineers.

I don’t know whether Georgia politicians are feeling the pressure from South Carolina’s growing resolve regarding funding or whether there are simply growing concerns about the federal funding process, but yesterday’s press conference with the governor looks like it marks a turning point.

From the SMN’s Deal pledges to “do whatever necessary” to deepen harbor:

“We’ll have our 40 percent, and we expect (the federal government) to live up to their commitment,” he said. “But if they don’t, we will accommodate accordingly.

“We won’t make 2014, but we’re not going to let anything slow us down from this point.”

From the AP in the AJC’s Deal: Georgia will pay for port deepening if feds don’t:

Asked what would happen if the president and Congress fail to find dredging money for the harbor soon, Deal said, “We’ll spend our money.”

“We hope we don’t get to that point,” Deal said. “But it may be one of those things that, if that becomes necessary, we begin the project and hopefully get (federal) funding after the fact to reimburse the state.”

Ha ha. Does anyone really think that the federal government would come back and reimburse the state?

Of course, the state legislature just finished its session without coming anywhere near making such a commitment of money.

And Georgia legislators would need to appropriate close to another half billion dollars to the dredging project if there’s no firm federal commitment. It will be interesting to see how that issue plays out, especially with legislators from rural areas that would see no visible impact from all that spending.

I’m not quite sure of Deal’s goal in yesterday’s press conference. If it’s to try to further convince the Obama administration to pay for the project, then it would seem he just let them off the hook.

And it’s not like Georgia’s elected officials in Washington can simply turn to the old practice of earmarks. From the SMN’s Chambliss: Earmark end complicates port funding from a couple of days ago:

For years, every project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers passed Congress as an earmark, a process in which members of Congress simply wrote in amounts they wanted saved in spending bills for their state or district. When those earmarks became a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign because there were never individual votes on those appropriations, Congress halted the practice.

“We are now in a post-earmark world, so that means we can’t go in and request it,” [Ga. Sen. Saxby Chambliss] said.