Port-Deepening: Something Everyone Agrees On

The House, Senate Finance Committee, and Governor Haley all have something in common:  each has expressed a commitment to deepening Charleston’s port.  Although the governor’s conviction fell into question late last year when she backed a controversial decision by DHEC to approve a permit for the Port of Savannah’s harbor deepening project.  None the less, in February of this year, the Governor was in Washington D.C. imploring President Obama to find more funds to the Charleston port and others along the Atlantic.

For its part, the House has shown its support for the project (see lines 129 – 133) by providing $180 million in non-recurring proviso funding to the State Ports Authority.  That leaves the Senate Finance Committee, which approved a bill in a committee meeting last week that authorizes the State Treasurer to issue a $120 million dollar bond for the project.  That would bring, if the bond were issued, total funding for the project to $300 million dollars.

The BEA estimates the General Assembly has roughly $900 million additional dollars to spend this year.  The Charleston port dredging project seems likely to be one of the areas where lawmakers will spend the additional dollars.

Whether or not you think deepening Charleston’s port should be a priority, borrowing $120 million dollars when you have $900 million dollars in “surplus” funding is, on the face of it, highly questionable.  Also, the arguable logic behind using state resources for the harbor relates to the possible future economic and job development driven by the port.  If the port will have such a tremendous impact that it constitutes appropriating state taxpayer dollars for it, it should be funded in the same manner as other agencies, rather than accruing interest over a 15 year period on a bond. That interest amounts to roughly $11.2 million dollars per year, according to the State Treasurer.

So, while we can’t predict the exact economic impact a 50-foot deep harbor will have in the future, we can predict the $168 million dollars in interest we’ll spend over 15 years for the bond issued to help pay for the harbor, in addition to the $300 million dollars it will cost.

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