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UPDATED On eve of Obama visit, Scott seeks feds' port money

On the eve of President Barack Obama's scheduled visit to Port Miami on Friday, Gov. Rick Scott criticized the president for being "late to the party" on seaport improvements. The governor said the state is awaiting tens of millions of dollars in promised federal money for improvements in Miami and Jacksonville.

In the past three years, Scott said, Florida taxpayers have invested $425 million in seaport-related improvements, notably the dredging of the Miami port channel, to improve international trade with Latin America and Asia and prepare for the expansion of the Panama Canal.

"We could not wait for the federal government to come to the table with their share of the project," Scott said. "When President Obama comes to the port of Miami tomorrow, we would like him to commit the federal government's reimbursement of $75 million Florida taxpayer dollars that we have spent on the federal government's share of the dregding project."

Scott said the feds also owe Florida for $36 million in improvements to a turning notch at JaxPort, the seaport in Jacksonville, to accommodate larger container ships and cargo volumes.  

The governor, who is up for re-election next year, has made port funding a cornerstone of his job creation efforts in the state. On a conference call with reporters, Scott was joined by Port Miami director Bill Johnson, president of the Florida Ports Council. 

UPDATE: A White House spokeswoman said the administration did help fund a $340 million loan for the port's tunnel project, and it awarded a $23 million grant to restore freight rail service between the port and the Florida East Coast Railway. The administration also put the dredging project on an expedited permitting timeline last summer.

"The President believes that the Port of Miami can enhance the competitiveness of workers and businesses throughout the region and in the nation as a whole," spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm said. 

-- STEVE BOUSQUET AND PATRICIA MAZZEI

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