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Seaports Chafe at Loss of Earmarks

In Florida, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, which oversees the port, last week approved a contract for a federal lobbying team, which included for the first time the powerhouse law firm of Patton Boggs. Several commissioners expressed concern, however, that delays in approving the contract may have hampered the port’s ability to secure federal funding for next year.

The Port of Miami’s director said he will keep pressure on Washington. “I may just have to rent an apartment there,” Johnson said.

Advocates of the earmark bans say the Army Corps of Engineers can now make more rational decisions on which ports should be improved. They argue that earmarks resulted in taxpayers footing the bill for unnecessary and expensive public works projects.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group, said not every port has to be deepened to accommodate the bigger ships from the Panama Canal. Rather, the lobbying for such projects by local officials amounts to “trying to keep up with the Joneses,” he said.

Now the Army Corps of Engineers will underwrite the most critical projects instead of the ones pushed by politicians with the most clout, Ellis said.

But Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities, which represents 85 U.S. ports, said lawmakers should have a say in which projects are funded.

“They are closer to the location of these ports and recognize what their benefits are,” Nagle said.

He also noted that even when they were inserted as earmarks, the projects still had to be considered feasible by the Corps.

Nagle said his group was working on convincing lawmakers that these projects should be considered differently from other earmarks. But port officials acknowledged they are unsure of how they will have to go about securing federal dollars in the future.

“We’re all trying to figure out what’s next in how these projects will be funded,” said Miller, the Port of Charleston spokesman.

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