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1:12 pm
Tue July 16, 2013

House Passes Charlotte Airport Authority Bill

Credit Ken Lund / flickr

It's nearly a done deal. The North Carolina House gave final approval on Tuesday to a measure transferring the Charlotte airport to a regional authority. All that remains is Senate concurrence with changes made to the measure in the House. That could come in the next day or so.

  Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey made a last ditch effort Monday night to hang on to the airport, offering to create an authority that would be appointed by, and answer to, the city council. But Republican state lawmakers said "no thanks" and voted 75 to 39 along party lines to create a regional authority that would govern the Charlotte airport.

The vote caps a bitter, six-month power struggle between Charlotte officials and state lawmakers.  The so-called "Charlotte way" would have been to consult and build consensus, admits Representative Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican.

"It's not the Charlotte way - it's not the Ruth Samuelson way," said Samuelson, during final debate on the House floor. "But it's the only way we've been left with when we can't get the other side to sit at the table and deal with us as equals."

The city of Charlotte rejected a legislative offer to delay the airport authority plan and participate in a study commission instead.  

City Manager Ron Carlee says lawmakers have not made a genuine effort to compromise on the measure: "I don't think it has evolved in any way based on any input from the city and it's become very clear to me now that there has never been any serious interest in input from the city."

Charlotte leaders have remained insistent the airport continue under the city's control. Republican state lawmakers insist it cannot. Representative Samuelson says creating a regional authority will put the airport "on solid footing."

"The business leaders have said for some time they think an authority is the good option for us," said Samuelson. "The trend across the country is that authorities are a good option for these types of airports, and the consultant the city hired said that an authority is a good option for this airport."

"This is huge," warned Representative Becky Carney, a Democrat from Charlotte. "The ramifications will be huge. The lawsuits will be filed. We don't need it. We don't need to go there - I wouldn't do it to your city. I ask you to vote 'No.'"

Charlotte's mayor and council have made veiled threats of legal action. Before passage in the House, the measure was amended to transfer the airport out of the city's control immediately, rather than wait until January.

Pending Senate approval of the changes, the regional authority would be governed by the existing airport advisory committee until a new 11-member board is appointed.  Airport employees would remain on the city's benefits package until the end of the year.