RALEIGH, N.C. -- The City of Charlotte lost round one in the tug-of-war with North Carolina’s Republican controlled legislature over control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
State Senator Bob Rucho shepherded his bill wrenching control of Charlotte away from the city through the state Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs. The bill placing control of the airport in the hands of an independent regional board passed the committee on a voice vote.
Sen. Rucho deflected questions about $800 million in outstanding bonds issued by the city of Charlotte after a legislative finance adviser told the committee she could not say whether the bonds could be transferred to an independent board without costing the taxpayers a lot of money. Rucho said the question would be answered by the time the full senate voted on the bill.
The open question of the debt raised eyebrows in Rucho’s own party. State Senator Fletcher Hartsell, also a Republican, told the Finance Committee, “That’s playing with fire and violating the dad gum constitution.”
The Mecklenburg County legislative delegation leader, state Senator Malcolm Graham, a Democrat, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the bill being fast tracked before it could be fully studied.
Charlotte Councilman Andy Dulin, a Republican who had lobbied against quick passage of the bill, called it a “political power play to the detriment of the public.”
State Senator Joel Ford raised questions about health insurance costs and benefits to airport employees if they are no longer employees of the City of Charlotte.
In debating the bill, Senator Rucho, the Finance Committee chair, said, “The value of the airport needs to be put before any type of politics,” drawing an audible scoff from several Mecklenburg legislators in the back of the committee room.
The bill will now go on to the full Senate and House for a vote. Since it is a “local” bill it does not require the Governor’s signature and so far Governor Pat McCrory, the seven-term Mayor of Charlotte, has not taken sides on the issue.