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Ground airport bill until it’s not so foggy

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  • Correction

    An editorial in Wednesday’s paper misstated how much federal money the state will forego by changing its unemployment insurance system. The state will lose about $780 million.



A bill that strips control of the Charlotte airport from the city is poised to fly through the N.C. legislature like a supersonic jet.

What’s the rush?

No one has answered that question. In fact, no one has made clear how the airport’s current governance has failed. Without those explanations, the effort has the look of a personal agenda prompting an opportunistic power grab.

Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, both Republicans from Matthews, are pushing legislation that would create an independent authority to oversee Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The city of Charlotte has supervised the airport, and helped it grow into the world’s sixth busiest, since 1935. Such a massive public policy change should be studied and debated in great depth, not rammed through within weeks of the idea first being publicly raised.

City Council members and state legislators from both parties agree. City Council Republican Andy Dulin urged lawmakers Wednesday to slow down. Mecklenburg Republican Reps. Ruth Samuelson and Charles Jeter backed Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx’s idea of studying the idea further before taking legislative action.

And why not? If an airport authority is the best approach, taking the time to make that case will help get the public on board. If it is not, an exploration of the pros and cons could be essential to preserving one of this region’s most valuable economic jewels.

It’s not clear where the push is coming from. Rucho and Brawley aren’t saying. Airport director Jerry Orr says he’s not advocating for the change, though he said last month that the airport would benefit from being run by an authority. There is speculation Orr helped initiate the move, given that the bill appeared shortly after the city transferred control of airport policing from Orr to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Not long before, Orr raised eyebrows at the city on another front. After a finding that the airport had violated federal tax law, the city in April 2011 put stricter financial controls on Orr, and the Observer’s Steve Harrison and Ely Portillo report that then-City Manager Curt Walton considered disciplining him.

Whether the current push is linked to Orr chafing over the city’s actions on policing and finances is not clear. But that perception is only strengthened by supporters’ failure to spell out how an independent authority would be an improvement.

The airport has been run and overseen exceptionally for decades, a fact in which almost everyone concurs. Why monkey with success? And why create an authority with great power that is accountable to no one and whose majority is appointed by people who are not Charlotte-Mecklenburg officials?

At the same time, many other airports are governed by authorities, and we can all think of local politicians not qualified to oversee airport operations.

So let’s take the time to dig into this more. Once upon a time, the legislature wouldn’t consider a bill affecting a city unless the local delegation unanimously supported it. Mecklenburg’s delegation couldn’t reach unanimity on the color of the sky, but that’s not a reason to proceed.

We’re eager to hear where Gov. Pat McCrory stands on this bill. We think we know where Mayor McCrory would have stood.

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