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State budget deals includes harbor money
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ATLANTA — State lawmakers said Thursday they have struck a partial budget deal that would buy new police cars, hire more tax collectors and commit state funding for dredging the Port of Savannah.
A committee of lawmakers from both chambers of the General Assembly has been trying to negotiate a compromise on a roughly $18 billion spending plan for the financial year starting in July.
State Sen. Jack Hill, the Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said that lawmakers want to reach a final deal Monday.
Hill said lawmakers are still trying to determine how much money the state should borrow in bonds in light of limits sought by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. A spokeswoman for Deal said she could not immediately comment on the plan.
One part of the agreement calls for adding about $12 million more than Deal’s budget proposal to the state Department of Revenue so it can hire more staff to investigate fraud, collect unpaid taxes and more promptly send taxpayers their refunds and answer their questions.
“We’ve seriously underfunded the Revenue Department in the last 10 years as our state has grown,” Hill said during a Statehouse meeting.
The partial plan from lawmakers would support bonds that Deal sought so his administration can fund the development of reservoirs and other water-storage options. That campaign is part of Deal’s plan to help resolve a legal dispute with Alabama and Florida that threatens metro Atlanta’s water supply.
Hill said it would also add $5 million to a fund that pays for infrastructure improvements meant to lure companies into relocating to Georgia.
For example, it would pay for a rail spur or access road to connect a firm to transportation networks.
House and Senate lawmakers said they support committing about $32 million in state funding for a project to deepen the Port of Savannah. Business leaders say the harbor needs to be dredged so cargo ships passing through the soon-to-be-deepened Panama Canal can dock there.
The early plan would allow the Georgia State Patrol to buy 200 new cars to replace high-mileage vehicles, said Rep. Terry England, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
As part of the emerging deal, lawmakers said they want to pay senior judges to oversee drug and mental health courts that supervise nonviolent offenders instead of sending them to prison. Hill said lawmakers hope the alternative courts will reduce the likelihood that offenders commit new crimes and eventually cut down on the state’s prison costs.

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