House passes airport authority bill

House passes airport authority bill


by JIM MORRILL & ELY PORTILLO / The Charlotte Observer

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 16 at 12:40 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Despite last-ditch efforts by Gov. Pat McCrory and others to forge a compromise, the N.C. House Tuesday passed a bill to create a new Charlotte airport authority.

The 75-39 vote sends the measure back to the Senate where it could win final approval as early as Tuesday afternoon.

The vote came hours after the city offered its own compromise — an 11-member Airport Commission. But Republican sponsors said that offer fell short.

They came back to the city’s rejection of their offer to include the city in a legislative study commission.

“We offered a study on all the options … and we were turned down,” said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican and bill sponsor. “(The authority bill) is not ‘the Charlotte way,’ it’s not the ‘Ruth Samuelson way,’ but it’s the only way we’ve been left with.”

Democratic Rep. Kelly Alexander said Charlotte tried to persuade his colleagues to reject the bill.

“We are on the verge of making a tremendous mistake,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Samuelson said the city’s Monday night proposal for a commission falls short.

“That’s not an offer, that’s not a good faith offer,” she said. “You don’t trust us. You want us to trust you.”

Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey acknowledged Tuesday morning that compromise talks with Raleigh haven’t worked. She said she had spoken with Samuelson Tuesday morning about the city’s offer.

“She just said it was too vague,” Kinsey said Samuelson told her. “She said ‘Here we are sitting up here with the bazookas and y’all are down there with water balloons, and you’re sending us this?”

Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican, is a lead sponsor of the bill that would transfer control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to an independent authority. The bill is up for a final House vote in a session that starts at 10 a.m.

“I don’t quite understand why they feel that we’re not being honest or sincere,” said Kinsey. “It’s all in writing.”

On Monday evening, the city made a counter offer. It would create an 11-member airport commission that would be accountable to the mayor and council. In a memo to council, shared with delegation members, City Manager Ron Carlee said it would incorporate a consultant’s recommendations while avoiding unintended consequences of an authority.

“Acceptance of proposal would demonstrate that General Assembly is serious about improving airport operations and not merely making a power grab to take the airport from Charlotte,” Carlee wrote in the memo.

Samuelson said the proposal would leave the legislature out entirely. She said lawmakers offered to sit down with the city in a legislative study commission that would review airport governance and make recommendations next spring.

“I’m pretty shocked that, after all we did, they still said ‘No’,” Samuelson said.

Fenton, the city lobbyist, defended the city proposal as “a good faith effort on our part to get this issue put to bed right now, put it behind us and go about rebuilding relationships.”

Kinsey said N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory had spoken with her twice Sunday afternoon on the phone. She said the former Charlotte mayor asked what he could do to help with a compromise. “He was saying, ‘I really want to get this worked out, what can I do to help?” she said. “I told him he could kill it, but he wouldn’t do that.”

Asked if McCrory is still working to help create a compromise, Kinsey said, “Whatever he’s doing obviously is behind the scenes, because I really don’t know.”

Kinsey said Tuesday that Charlotte could sue the state if it creates an airport authority, but would prefer not to do so.

“Nothing is off the table,” she said. “I think the state wants to avoid it too...We just don’t want to go there. We don’t want to do anything to harm our airport.”

Democratic Rep. Becky Carney blamed growing bad blood between city and state officials for the apparent stalemate.

“Personality conflicts and trust issues between the city and the state are getting in the way of a reasonable compromise,” she said Tuesday morning. “Perhaps the sponsors could keep the bill alive by holding the bill until (next year’s) short session. Let the city move forward with their proposal and re-assess next year.”

Kinsey said she told Samuelson that if the legislature gave the city a year to try its proposal, they could always reevaluate how the airport was run in the future.

“We know you can shoot us down anytime. If we don’t fulfill our commitment to this, you can steal our airport next year,” Kinsey said she told Samuelson. “I didn’t put it like that...I don’t know what else to say.”