A group of Catoosa County Democrats is pressuring U.S. Rep. Tom Graves to help allocate funds for deepening the Port of Savannah, which they say is of "vital" importance to the state.
Graves, who represents Georgia's 9th District that covers an area from Trenton to Gainesville, has said he will not support sending federal dollars to the project because he has taken a pledge against earmarks and sworn to cut spending.
In a letter, Catoosa Democratic Party Chairman Bruce Sloan urged Graves to join an effort to secure funding to deepen the port to allow for a new class of ships that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal and access the East Coast later this decade.
Funding for the port has received support from Democrats and Republicans across the state, led by Republican U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss and Kasim Reed, the Democratic mayor of Atlanta. President Barack Obama included $600,000 for the port in his recently released budget, a fraction of the $100 million for which supporters had hoped.
"No project is more vital to the competitiveness of our state," Sloan said. "Our area of Northwest Georgia is heavily dependent on the carpet industry, and the future of the industry is tied to our ability to export our products easily through Savannah and to import needed materials."
Sloan also wrote that his party and Graves differ on many issues, "but in the end, we are all Georgians."
"Our future depends on wise investment now," he said.
Graves reiterated his beliefs in a statement Friday.
"I'm not surprised to hear that our Democrat friends don't understand what a 'no-earmark pledge' means," Graves said. "I told the people of Georgia's 9th District that I would not request earmarks, and that's a promise I will keep."
Walker County Republican Chairman Nathan Smith said he can see why Isakson and others would support funding the work at the port, but lauded Graves for sticking true to his campaign platform.
"He made a promise," Smith said of Graves' anti-earmark pledge. "Unlike a lot of other politicians he does intend to keep his promise, and I'm glad to hear he's going to keep his promise."
Smith said deepening the port is a project that should be considered and is an appropriate use of federal dollars.
"The question is can we really afford it?" Smith asked. "Right now we've got to wrangle this budget in. We've spent way, way beyond our means."
Graves acknowledged the port's importance, but said the funding should come from the state.
"Without question, the Port of Savannah is vital to Georgia's economy, and I fully support the dredging," Graves said. "The president marked this as a project of national importance, and I have faith that our state government will organize its budget and work with the Army Corps of Engineers to create finances and finish the dredging. I believe Georgia has the ideas and ingenuity to compete with neighboring states and become the port of choice for supertankers."