MIAMI — As part of his "Let's Get to Work'' jobs tour, Gov.-elect Rick Scott visited the Port of Miami on Wednesday — but did not take a position on a major project proponents say could bring 33,000 jobs to South Florida.
Scott only committed to carefully studying a proposal to dredge the port to 50 feet to accommodate bigger cargo ships.
"I'll be getting up to speed on it," Scott told reporters after meeting with port officials and touring the port's cargo facilities. "It appears to make all the sense in the world, but part of my job is to go through and look at how all the dollars are spent."
For months, Bill Johnson, the director of the Port of Miami, has been lobbying Washington for the $75 million in federal dollars still needed to deepen the port by 2014, when large vessels begin going through the Panama Canal.
The port already has secured $17.5 million from the state and $120 million from the county for the project, which has been authorized by Congress.
In his campaign for governor, Scott, a Republican, promised to reignite the state's faltering economy and spur job growth. But he said Wednesday he opposes state or federal earmarks — like the one the port has been seeking — that allocate money to projects, including some with job-creating potential.
"I don't support any earmarks," Scott said. "You can call it whatever you want."
Johnson, who noted that earmarks traditionally have funded port projects through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the federal government also could fund the dredging in other ways. One option would be for the money to be included in President Barack Obama's budget.
Miami is competing with other ports for dredging dollars, including Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and ports in Tampa, Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston. On the U.S. Atlantic coast, only Baltimore and Norfolk can fit those ships.
A sign welcoming Scott at the Port of Miami entrance Wednesday read, "Deep Dredge = 33,000 jobs."
Though Scott didn't give them his full-throated backing for the project, port and Miami-Dade County leaders said they were pleased with the incoming governor's visit.
"It's highly important that he see the needs of the port," County Commissioner Jose ''Pepe'' Diaz said. "I think he understood. He has many commitments, but I'm happy he's here."
Scott has been crisscrossing the state to meet with local officials and business groups and executives to reiterate his top goal of job creation. Before coming to Miami, he stopped in Lake City in North Florida on Wednesday to highlight the importance of the state's manufacturing industry.