The bazookas are back.
After bullying and failing and stumbling and flailing, Mecklenburg lawmakers Bob Rucho and Ruth Samuelson are making another legislative grab at Charlotte’s airport. Samuelson, you might recall, is the Republican representative who told then-Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey during last year’s airport fight: “Here we are, sitting up here with the bazookas, and y’all are down there with water balloons.” A new bill shows she’s still ready to blast.
The bill, introduced this week in the N.C. Senate, attempts to strengthen language in a law passed last summer that transferred Charlotte Douglas International to a regional airport commission. That law is on hold because the city adroitly argued that the legislation created questions about who owned the airport and whether the FAA needed to transfer operating certificates. The courts and FAA have since punted those issues back and forth, putting the airport commission in limbo.
In response, the new bill’s authors are brandishing the legislative white-out and removing references in the law that suggested a transfer of airport ownership. Instead, the new bill makes clear that the airport authority is an agency “of and within the city” and operates “on behalf of the city.”
Except it doesn’t, really. Under the law, the city has title to the airport property but virtually no say in its operation and finances. That’s why the city sued, successfully so far.
Samuelson and Rucho have an answer for that, too. The new bill tells the city that it must implement, not fight, the law – and even that it has to go to the FAA and say that the state was right all along. This is the legislative equivalent of yanking Charlotte’s arm behind its back. It’s coercion, and it dismisses Charlotte’s right to ask legitimate legal questions.
For Samuelson and Rucho, the bill also ignores what their Charlotte constituents have overwhelmingly said – that the commission law is a bad idea. At this point, their battle seems to have turned prideful.
The city, meanwhile, is mulling its options. For now, it should fight the bill’s passage and hope that someone in Raleigh might still broker the best solution – a compromise. One candidate: House Speaker Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg, who could gain a lot of hometown political goodwill for his U.S. Senate candidacy if he finds a middle ground that answers lawmakers’ concerns about airport governance. Tillis has been quiet on the airport bill thus far.
If the bill does pass, Charlotte officials must weigh how winnable the city’s legal case is before throwing more resources toward the fight. Certainly, that case just got more difficult, thanks to the language repairs in the Samuelson/Rucho bill. In the end, the state often does hold the bazookas, as Samuelson so indelicately said. She’s just using it for the wrong reasons.
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