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Monday, December 13, 2010 - 11:46am

Graves Won't Back Port Earmark

Georgia's newly-minted House Appropriations Committee member says, a ban on Congressional earmarks applies even to the project state officials consider most urgent for jobs.

Republican US Congressman Tom Graves says, he will not make an exception for Savannah harbor deepening.

In his first week since being named to the House panel that oversees federal spending, Graves has called himself a new kind of appropriator -- one who will put the interests of the nation first, even if some local and state projects go unfunded.

"Historically, members have sought to be on the committee to spend money," Graves says. "I think you'll see myself and many others as fresh eyes and one who will be a saver and not a spender."

And asked if he would earmark the federal share of the half-billion-dollar Savannah harbor deepening -- a priority for Georgia officials, including his fellow Republicans -- Graves says simply, "That includes all earmarks."

"We've banned those," Graves says. "And there'll be no more earmarks over the next two years. So that's not even an option."

On this he parts ways with US Senator Saxby Chambliss and other Georgia Republicans who say harbor deepening is so important for jobs that it would warrant Congressional earmarking -- the controversial practice of funding projects not deemed worthy enough by the merits.

Some state lawmakers already are preparing for the possibility of Georgia paying for the massive project on its own if both the US Army Corp of Engineers and Congress fail to include it in the federal budget.

"After serving in the Georgia General Assembly, I know that Georgia is an immensely creative state when it comes to coming up with solutions," Graves says. "I'm convinced that the state and local leaders will be able to move forward in a very positive, solution-oriented way."

Graves says, he hopes that the US Army Corp of Engineers will see that the project has national importance.

Of course, if that happens -- if the Corp of Engineers under the Obama administration includes the project in its budget after a competitive process with projects around the nation -- then all of this discussion about earmarks becomes moot.

In that case, the project won't be considered "pork" and state Republicans won't face as much pressure to bend their anti-earmark pledge.