ATLANTA -- Saxby Chambliss sees windows of opportunity in Atlanta -- and America -- open now.
After years of phenomenal growth, metro Atlanta is suffering high unemployment, failing banks and foreclosures even worse than the national statistics.
But Chambliss said some key opportunities could help bring back the prosperity of the past.
Savannah's harbor project, linked with an expansion to the Panama Canal, could add to the already thriving port, he said.
And with regional transportation funding votes set across the state, the stage could soon be set for a comeback.
"Transportation isn't just how you get around. It's how we sustain our economic growth," Chambliss said Monday at a showcase for the region's Community Improvement Districts.
Chambliss praised the quasi-governmental associations heeding the call from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to infuse private dollars into funding the nation's infrastructure.
He said he is working in Washington to create more than a "Band-Aid" for transportation, but with budgeting issues, next year's regional sales tax vote is an opportunity to find the funding.
"Everybody here needs to leave this lunch today with a commitment," to educate their friends and neighbors before the July 31 vote, he said. "Atlanta is the economic engine of the Southeast. So goes Atlanta, so goes this part of the country."
In another speech, Bucky Johnson, the mayor of Norcross who last week led a regional roundtable of leaders to a unanimous vote on the project list for the proposed tax, said the venture is very personal to him, as a native Atlantan.
"It really brought the region together in a way that hadn't been done before," he said of the yearlong process to form the list. "I'm going to do everything I can to make this successful. There is a lot of work to do (before passage)."
Also at Monday's Council for Quality Growth event, Chambliss talked about his work as a member of the so-called "Gang of Six" -- a bipartisan group of senators studying financial reforms. Chambliss said there is an opportunity in Washington to fix finances where spending has reached 25 percent of the gross domestic product and revenues are only 14.5 percent of the GDP.
"You've got to figure out a way to close that gap," Chambliss said, adding, "There is no silver bullet."
He said he also wants to curb regulations except those impacting health and safety to help businesses.