Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants more than just a presidential visit to Miami’s port; he wants the federal government to pay its share of the bill for big improvements under way at Florida’s ports.
President Barack Obama is “late to the party” when it comes to port improvements, said Scott Thursday (March 28). The president is scheduled to visit the Port of Miami Friday afternoon.
The Republican governor said Florida taxpayers have fronted the money for harbor dredging in Miami and channel improvements in Jacksonville while waiting for the federal government to pay its portion. “We could not wait for the federal government to come to the table with their share,” the governor said.
All told, Scott said the federal government owes Florida $111 million for the two projects.
“Florida taxpayers have stepped up time and time again” to foot the federal share of the bill, Scott said. The governor said the state could not wait for federal action to start the projects, because the local economy needed the boost.
Two years ago, the governor ordered the state transportation department to cover the federal government’s $75 million share of the $150 million cost of dredging the Miami harbor to a depth of 50 feet. The project will make the channel deep enough to handle container ships that can pass through an expanded Panama Canal when it opens in 2015.
In January, Scott said the state would spend $36 million that it expects from the federal government to make it easier for the larger ships to reach the Jacksonville port. Without the improvements, the vessels have to wait until high tide to get through the strong currents where St. Johns River crosses the Intracoastal Waterway.
As Stateline has reported, port cities along the East Coast are competing fiercely to capture new business when the Panama Canal expands in 2015. Scott said Florida state and local governments have already spent $425 million to prepare for the larger ships.
Scott has often used Obama as a foil. One of Scott’s first acts in office was to kill a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa that Obama wanted. He announced the state funding for Miami’s harbor dredging while Obama visited the state.
The governor criticized Obama for hiking taxes and adding regulations, but he said the federal government should still have money for infrastructure projects. “What they need to be doing is what we’ve done in Florida,” he said. Scott said the state has reduced funding but made “strategic investments” in areas such as schools, tourism and infrastructure.
The Republican could face an Obama ally in a re-election bid next year. Former governor Charlie Crist switched parties last year and could run as a Democrat against Scott. Crist has been tied to Obama, first by supporting the president’s economic stimulus package and then by speaking on Obama’s behalf at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.