Gov. Nikki Haley implored President Barack Obama on Monday to find more money to deepen the Charleston port and other Atlantic harbors so they can accommodate giant cargo ships after the widening of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014.
Haley, at a White House meeting with Obama and other governors, said she also urged the president to kick the Army Corps of Engineers into higher gear on deepening the Atlantic ports.
“I personally talked to him about the ports that we’re all facing – and the fact that why does it take the Corps of Engineers 10 years to do a deepening project,” Haley told reporters after the White House session.
“We need it done within less than a year,” she said. “Other countries are doing it, why aren’t we doing that?”
Republican Haley said she did not thank Democrat Obama for including $3.5 million in his budget proposal to expand the Corps of Engineers study of deepening Charleston’s port.
Instead, Haley asked Obama to stop his administration, like previous ones, from diverting tens of millions of dollars in collected cargo duties from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and using the money elsewhere, instead of their intended purpose of dredging ports. That diverted money, Haley said, could be used to deepen Charleston and other Atlantic ports in time to accommodate the megaships slated to start arriving in three or four years.
“We’ve got a lot of areas that if we don’t get our ports actually deep enough to be able to accept those big cargo ships, we’re going to have a wasted opportunity and watch the Caribbean (ports) be the ones that benefit,” Haley said.
“His answer was, ‘OK, we’ll create a committee,’ ” she said. “Well, I’ve been in government long enough to know when you create a committee, that’s one way of passing the buck. We’ve got less than three years, and we need to make sure that we do this quickly.”
Haley skipped Obama’s White House dinner Sunday evening for governors, held to coincide with the annual Washington conference of the National Governors Association. She said Monday that she and her husband, Michael, had personal plans to meet friends.
Nikki and Michael Haley attended the White House dinner a year ago. The next day, the then-new governor challenged Obama over his health-insurance law, asking him to allow South Carolina and other states to opt out. He declined the request.
As she did last year, Haley spent most of the weekend meeting with other GOP governors at the concurrent conference of the Republican Governors Association. Except for the White House events, the National Governors meeting became mainly a gathering of Democratic governors.
At a news conference with fellow Republican Govs. Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley accused Obama of meddling in S.C. affairs and making her job more difficult.
“In South Carolina, we can’t even pass our own bills without him getting in the way,” she said. “We pass illegal immigration reform, he stops it. We pass voter ID, he stops it. We get Boeing, he stops it.
“I mean, I’d just like to be a governor and be able to take care of my state. The president’s trying to handle the entire country, and he’s failing.”
Haley was referring to lawsuits filed by the Justice Department against S.C. laws authorizing police officers to verify the citizenship of people they stop and requiring voters to have photo-identification cards in order to cast ballots.
Haley was also citing the now-dropped bid of the National Labor Relations Board to prevent Boeing from operating a new North Charleston plant to make Dreamliner commercial jets.