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Obama's Fla. Visit Doesn't Resolve Port Funding Flap

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White House Photo by Pete Souza
While visiting PortMiami on March 29, President Obama toured the ongoing tunnel project, which was funded partly with private funds.
Photo courtesy Bouygues Civil Works Florida
President Obama touted his proposals for increasing public and private investment in infrastructure projects.
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) used the occasion of President Obama’s March 29 visit to PortMiami to highlight the state’s increasing investments in port improvement projects, while chiding the president and the federal government for inadequate infrastructure spending.

"He is late to the party on Florida port investment," Scott said the day before the presidential visit.

In particular, Scott noted Florida's 2011 infusion of $77 million in state funds to kick-start a $150-million dredging project for the Port of Miami. That project, which was advertised for bids in October by the Jacksonville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, was scheduled to be awarded soon.

The state’s funding was needed because of federal inaction, Scott stated.

"We could not wait for the federal government to come to the table with their share of this project," the governor said, adding that, "we would like him to commit the federal government’s reimbursement of $75 million for this project."

Scott has been an advocate for port investments since coming to office in 2011. In rejecting federal funds for a high-speed rail project in February 2011, the governor noted: "Rather than investing in a high-risk rail project, we should be focusing on improving our ports, rail and highway infrastructure."

More recently, with the state now expecting a budget surplus, Scott proposed an 11% increase in 2013 spending for the Florida Dept. of Transportation, with $288 million dedicated to ports, say FDOT officials.

In his speech, Obama did not address Scott’s criticism of funding for dredging.

After Obama’s visit, Scott issued the following statement: "While we’re happy to host the President, we hoped to hear a commitment to reimburse Florida taxpayers the millions of dollars the state invested for the federal portion of port projects in Miami and Jacksonville. We hope this reimbursement will be included in the President’s budget proposal next week."

Florida DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad told ENR that a key element behind Scott’s comments is congressional inability to approve a new Water Resources Development Act, which would authorize Corps dredging and other projects. The last WRDA became law in late 2007.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did approve a new WRDA on March 20, with floor action the next step. A WRDA is the first priority for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has said, but he has not introduced a bill yet.

Prasad says, "At the very least, at the federal government level, as they sort out their finances and budgets, they ought to be able to authorize the projects that the Corps of Engineers has … determined…vital for the nation’s competitiveness in the global marketplace." He adds, "Let's make the process more nimble."

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