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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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The airport conundrum

From an editorial published in the Greensboro News and Record on Tuesday:

One of the most baffling political dramas of this year – and there have been many – has been the struggle between the state legislature and the city of Charlotte over control of its airport.

Charlotte-Douglas International is one of the world’s busiest airports and a huge economic engine for its region. It’s an important asset for the entire state.

Almost out of a clear blue sky, some Republican legislators decided airport ownership should be transferred from the city to a regional authority. After months of debate and negotiation, the legislature exerted its power over local governments and enacted the transfer Thursday – effective immediately. The same day, city leaders persuaded a Mecklenburg County judge to issue a temporary restraining order.

The airport’s governance is up in the air at a very bad time. The merger of American Airlines and US Airways has left open the question of whether Charlotte will remain a hub. This political wrestling match creates an appearance of instability.

And politics seems to be at the root of this. Republican legislators accused the City Council, which has a Democratic majority, of playing politics with the airport. Council members, Democrats and Republicans alike, deny doing so.

It’s more likely the legislature that’s playing politics. Republican-leaning outlying counties – Cabarrus, Union, Iredell, Gaston and Lincoln – collectively would get a larger stake in the regional authority than would Charlotte. A provision in the new law even allows the authority to use some Charlotte airport revenues for improvements at existing airports in those counties. How does that help the Charlotte airport?

Curiously, Gov. Pat McCrory said virtually nothing about all this until last week, when he claimed to be making a last-minute effort to delay the bill, pending more study. He failed.

McCrory also claimed this would not have happened while he was mayor of Charlotte. Of course it didn’t happen. There was a different legislature then, one more respectful of cities.

Regional airports are the norm in North Carolina, but other major facilities serve more than one large city. Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point and Raleigh and Durham are more equal partners than are Charlotte and Monroe, Concord, Lincolnton, Gastonia and Statesville.

Charlotte’s airport has been well-managed. There was no reason to impose a drastic change in its ownership and governance. Suddenly an unfair political confrontation was thrust upon the city. Seeking protection from the courts is justified.

The city has one last line of defense: required approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is part of the Department of Transportation, now headed by former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

But how strange will it be if North Carolina’s leading city must rely on Washington connections to protect its interests from its own state government?

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