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Monday, January 2, 2012 - 2:30am

Ports Ask Lawmakers For $46 Million

Georgia ports officials are asking state lawmakers for $46 million in new money to deepen the Savannah harbor.

The request is one of many the legislature will consider during its upcoming session.

Education, health care and the rest of the state budget demand lawmakers' attention.

But the ports are a bi-partisan applause line under the Gold Dome.

Ports officials tout the hundreds of thousands of jobs in every county that rely in some way on port activities.

So it's a good bet, lawmakers will approve the request.

Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz says, the $46 million would be handed to the US Army Corps of Engineers to continue their work on Savannah harbor expansion.

"Depending upon the funding levels through the federal government, they'll use this money, kind of slide it back and forth between what's necessary on the front end of the project to make certain that we are moving forward timely," Foltz says.

The expansion is still waiting on its largest chunk of money -- from the federal government.

But even if all goes the ports' way in Atlanta and Washington next year, the state still would need to spend about $70 million more to meet its share of the project, designed to attract larger ships to Savannah.

But, funding isn't the only item ports officials will be following when lawmakers convene in January.

Foltz says, he's interested in the results of a year-long initiative to re-write laws affecting businesses.

"I think there are a couple of areas that we have fallen behind from a competitive standpoint with our neighboring states," Foltz says. "And I think the state recognizes that we need to update some of those issues and I hope they'll be addressed in this upcoming session."

Governor Nathan Deal is expected to unveil a series of proposals dealing with business climate, education and infrastructure as part of a "Competitiveness Initiative."

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