WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's budget plan Monday was a mix of good and bad news for South Florida.
The bad news: an aggressive effort to secure federal funding to dredge the port of Miami suffered a significant setback when Obama declined to put aside money for it. Local officials and the state's South Florida congressional delegation had hoped to secure $75 million in the president's 2012 budget proposal to dredge the port to 50 feet to accommodate bigger cargo ships. But the administration said the project didn't land high enough on its priority list, said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami.
Advocates for the Everglades hailed the good news that the Obama administration was committed to restoration efforts. Everglades Foundation chief executive officer Kirk Fordham hailed the budget plan, saying the administration "understands that Everglades restoration is a priority to sustain the water supply, create jobs and provide myriad economic benefits.
"This funding, along with money targeted to the Department of Interior budget, will ensure that construction projects already underway continue and do not result in layoffs or project delays," Fordham said.
Port director Bill Johnson — who had lobbied the White House for months, saying the project could bring 33,000 jobs to South Florida — said he was "obviously disappointed, but undeterred." He said he didn't think that any East Coast ports that had sought construction dollars for dredging had received them.
"No one would expect us to give up and we won't," he said. The port needs the money to deepen the port by 2014, when large vessels begin using the Panama Canal.
Wilson, who championed the project, said she has asked the administration to identify alternative sources for the cash.
"We can't afford to give up, there's too many jobs at stake, even if we have to have a huge fundraiser," Wilson said. "We have to find the money."
Administration officials in phone calls with reporters defended the spending decisions. White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe said Obama had cut programs he cares about, but "is deadly serious about getting this country on a sustainable fiscal path."
Johnson says he'll go back to Congress to plead the port's case, but that may prove an uphill battle: Lawmakers are spurning earmarks and the GOP-led House on Tuesday will begin looking at cutting $58 billion in spending for the rest of this year. Those cuts include programs that help the poor with housing, job training, community health centers and legal services.
And Republicans pledged Monday to go deeper than Obama in spending cuts, labeling his budget proposal too timid.