The head of the State Ports Authority has called out U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott for their recent votes against the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill, which contains money for deepening Charleston's harbor.
Chairman Bill Stern said state voters ought to know that Sanford's and Scott's votes jeopardized South Carolina's most important economic development initiative.
"If these no votes would have prevailed, we're stuffed," he said. "That's huge, and I'm real concerned that on something so important and vital to our people and our state's economy, we can't get 100 percent yes vote from our congressional delegation."
Stern, who became unusually animated on the topic during last week's board meeting, praised U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Reps. Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Joe Wilson, Tom Rice and Jim Clyburn for their support. Graham was scheduled to give the keynote address Friday at the Maritime Association of South Carolina's annual banquet in North Charleston.
Stern said he called most South Carolina delegation members to underscore the importance of the vote, and was saddened when Sanford, Scott and Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., voted no.
Sanford was unable to comment last week but released a statement after his vote: "I voted against it because of the total spending level and the way in which this bill codified the process by which we got to the new spending level."
Sanford also said he was given only a day to review the 1,582-page bill, but that was still time enough for him to find "places where it picked winners and losers in the marketplace, which would legitimately alarm any fan of free markets and limited government."
Scott's and Duncan's offices did not respond to messages last week.
Stern noted that the bill contained about $1.2 million to continue the Charleston Harbor deepening study, as well as $14.8 million for operations and maintenance and $120,000 in new construction.
"My feeling is the votes coming up on the deepening project on the federal level are the most important votes in my lifetime that affect South Carolina in terms of job creation and economic development," he said. "This is a game changer."
Authority Vice Chairman John Hassell said Stern spoke for the board. "We do what we can and we look to our elected officials to watch out for South Carolina in our arena," Hassell said. "We're immensely grateful to those members of the House and Senate team who voted for that funding."
Stern noted that the port already accounts for 1 in 11 jobs in the state, $12 billion in state wages and $50 billion in total economic impact here. "It's incalculable what the increase will be once we get the deeper water when the (widened) Panama Canal is opened" in mid-2015 he said. "The quickest way to see South Carolina become a Tier 2 port is not to have deep water."
The vote marked an unusual instance where the state's Republican congressional delegation -considered among the most fiscally conservative - split.
Mulvaney, who attended this week's board meeting, said the bill was far from perfect, "but it marks a dramatic change in Washington. The base spending levels we approved today are $100 billion lower than those in 2008."
During his earlier terms in Congress (1994-2001), Sanford also voted against at least one large spending bill that contained money for South Carolina's port. Last year, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch blasted Sanford for that as they battled for the first congressional district seat, but he deflected her barbs and won by a 54-42 margin.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.