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Lawmakers, city look for airport compromise

RALEIGH House Speaker Thom Tillis has thrown himself into the debate over a proposed Charlotte airport authority, quietly convening both sides in hopes of finding common ground.

So far, any compromise has been elusive.

Tillis hosted a conference call on Tuesday with a group that included City Council members James Mitchell and David Howard and Republican Reps. Bill Brawley and Ruth Samuelson, both of Mecklenburg County.

According to Mitchell, the call also included US Airways executive Chuck Allen and city lobbyist Dana Fenton.

The House is considering a Senate-passed bill that would transfer control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to an independent authority. A city-funded consultant also has recommended a “properly structured” authority.

Earlier this month, Tillis, a Cornelius Republican, said he wouldn’t “put much stock in” parts of the Senate bill, pledging instead to work on “a bill that makes sense.”

He was unavailable Wednesday. His spokesman, Jordan Shaw, said: “The speaker is trying to bring everyone to the table to come to a workable solution.”

Some participants were reluctant to disclose details of the 30-minute call. But according to Mitchell, there was some agreement to form a study group.

“We all kind of agreed the best way to go forward was to form a study group … ,” he said. “We’re waiting on Reps. Brawley and Samuelson to put together criteria for a study group.”

Samuelson said only: “I don’t think it’s been decided what a study group would look like.”

Any study group would presumably consider consultant Bob Hazel’s recommendations.

Among them are changes in the makeup and size of a proposed authority, recommendations from experts on airport finance and Federal Aviation Authority rules, and careful “planning for the tasks required to make a smooth transition.”

Mitchell said city officials hope a study would slow down a bill that at least in the Senate seemed on the fast track.

“I’m hoping the bill would not be on the floor this session,” he said.

That may not be likely.

“I would think that (legislators are) probably more willing to vote on something this session,” said Samuelson.

Brawley, the lead sponsor of the authority measure in the House, said, “everything’s on the table, nothing’s been decided.”

But, he added, “No matter how you try to spin it, the consultant said an authority is the best way to go forward.”

The push to create an airport authority took city officials by surprise and resulted in strong words from supporters and opponents alike.

“I would very much like to end the adversarial positions the city of Charlotte and the legislature have had this session on so many issues,” Brawley said.

Given that, Mitchell said he credits Tillis with trying to bring the sides together.

“A lot of credit goes to the speaker,” Mitchell said. “He said, ‘You might not agree, but let’s continue to talk.’ ”

Morrill: 704-358-5059.
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