Alternative To State Airport Takeover Takes Flight In House

Mar 28, 2019

The House has passed a substitute to a controversial bill that would give the state control of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

In the waning days of the 2019 legislative session, a "franken-bill" of several transportation priorities combined into one bill returns to the Senate after a vote of 104-70.

The Senate version of the bill would create a "Major Airport Authority" that would take full control of the airport from the City of Atlanta.  

The version that passed the House would create an Airport Overview Committee made up of several House and Senate members who would be able to subpoena documents.

Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), the bill’s sponsor, offered the substitute during a committee meeting Wednesday. 

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has called attempts to take control of the airport from the City of Atlanta an “act of war.” 

Delta Air Lines also objects to a state airport takeover, and so does the union representing TSA workers, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which fears privatization.

“In Florida, we saw where they tried to privatize the airport and do with the union,” AFGE President David Mollett said. “We have many workers that are represented by unions at the airport, so I have a concern that this might take place if the state takes it over.”

Tanner said he sees no reason for a takeover.

“Overall, I think that our committee yesterday felt like Hartsfield’s doing a great job. It’s one of the best-run airports in the country. The concerns are around the procurement process, and I think what we’re doing will shed a great deal of transparency on the process and some oversight,” Tanner said.

Tanner described the proposed Airport Oversight committee as having a similar mission to MARTOC, a legislative committee overseeing MARTA.  That joint committee that doesn't handle day-to-day operations. 

The bill also incorporates other bills introduced during this legislative session. One of them is the bill pushed by the governor for a jet-fuel tax exemption for airlines in Georgia. 

Also included is HB 511 which would create the "Department of Mobility and Innovation" and implement three pilot programs to increase transit access across the state.

“It identifies 22 counties that are all in rural South Georgia [where there are] very high unemployment rates and very high poverty, and many people have issues with transportation," Tanner said. "So the pilot program will actually provide direct assistance to those individuals to help them with transportation."

Since this bill greatly amends the version that passed the Senate, Tanner expects it will need to go to conference committee to work out the final details of the large bill.