U.S. Senator Jim DeMint opposes using earmarks to pay for dredging at the Port of Charleston. The senator says Congress has created $80 billion in backlogs from using earmarks, which grant states federal money to pay for projects. He says instead, he wants to reform the Army Corps of Engineers, which would oversee the project:
The problem we have here is we can’t get the support of senators to reform the corps if they continue to earmark. We had one senator in this past session ask for 200 earmarks from the corps, and that’s how we end up with ten years of backlog. They’re not going to get to the priorities of our ports and waterways, which is their main mission, if we continue to make the corps increasingly dysfunctional.
Senator Lindsey Graham proposed $400,000 in earmarks to be given to South Carolina to deepen the Port of Charleston to allow for larger ships. DeMint says he is introducing a bill to keep earmarks from being necessary in cases like this. In the plan he addresses a harbor maintenance trust fund which can be tapped for the dredging. A summary released by DeMint’s office says he would allow states to choose, within the proper parameters, where to use the Harbor Maintenance taxes collected at their ports. Summary of Army Corps of Engineers Reform Act to be proposed.
DeMint says, “I just think we are past the point as a country where people at the state level can just say ‘I don’t care about our country, just send me the money.’ I’m afraid that’s what we are hearing from some people who know the corps is dysfunctional and inefficient, but they are not willing to do the necessary things to fix it.DeMint says it’s a good idea to deepen the Port of Charleston, but his focus is on the Corps of Engineers’ way of asking for money:
We would stop it, we would get rid of a lot of these backlog projects if they hadn’t had any money spent on them in five years, they would go away. Then we would get some objective commissions that were not political, similar to a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process about our bases to try and remove it from a political process and try and get it focused on real water infrastructure needs.
DeMint says, although they disagree on the earmark system, he says is thankful for Senator Graham’s support on corps reform and the port’s deepening. He says,
The port is one of those projects I consider meritorious. Clearly it’s good, not only for South Carolina, but for the country when our harbor can take the largest vessels in the world and we can move commerce. But, in order for that to work in the future, we need to make sure South Carolina doesn’t have to come begging politicians every year just to get part of their money back.
Senator DeMint says he is putting the final touches on the bill and will introduce it this week or next.