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Bill for state takeover of Atlanta airport sparks opposition, even before it’s filed

airport concessions, concourse c

Some airport concessionaires price gouge passengers, an Atlanta audit determined. File/Credit: David Pendered

By Maggie Lee

As early as next week, the state Senate will see a proposal to put the state in charge of the Atlanta-run Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Even before it’s been filed, it’s sparked opposition from Atlanta lawmakers.

The sponsor of the upcoming bill said he thinks the state ought to oversee the airport, as it does the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Ports Authority.

Georgia's state Capitol building. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Georgia’s state Capitol building. Credit: Kelly Jordan

“It’s a big economic engine that we have in this state,” said state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson. “Much like our World Congress Center, our Ports Authority, even our university system, we have statewide input, meaning we have leaders from all over the state that have a say, have an influence,” said Jones.

Each of those bodies he mentioned is overseen by a board appointed by the governor.

“I feel like it’s in the state’s best interest to have a say in the international airport that we have,” said Jones.

He said the big item that would change is that the state would be in charge of procurement and selecting vendors at the airport. That’s something the city does now.

That proposal was the first thing that came up in a regularly scheduled meeting of Atlanta lawmakers and other city elected officials at the Capitol on Friday.

City Council President Felicia Moore said she knew of an possible proposal of creating a state airport authority that would include Atlanta, but she hadn’t seen all the details about its proposed powers.

“We certainly are not wanting to lose control of the airport. That would be something that we would not be supportive of,” she said.

Last week, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke to talk of an airport bill, also at the regular lawmakers’ meeting.

“It’s interesting that there are conversations about the governing authority of the airport given that we are the best airport in the world, so I’m not sure why we want to tamper with a good thing,” Bottoms said.

State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, told her fellow lawmakers that they must be “ever-vigilant, armed to the teeth,” that they must take any bill seriously.

But Orrock also said she’s been down this road before.

“This is not new news, it’s old news. Twenty-five years they’ve had this dream of taking over the airport. And it fades more and more into the distance, but they keep getting it introduced,” Orrock said.

Jones himself in 2015 filed a bill that called for a study of the idea of putting the airport under state control. His 2015 airport resolution also called for an unrelated review of tax credits. It got Senate Rules Committee approval, but never made it to a full state Senate vote.

State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas, D-Atlanta, speculated that the bill might be a bargaining tool.

“Usually they put it in and there’s an outcry and then it goes away,” she said.

Jones said he’s not trying to squeeze anybody, but that he thinks the idea makes good business sense and mirrors how the state handles other important facilities.

When asked what he thinks the bill’s chances are, Jones said he has 37 co-signers. That’s more than half the state Senate.

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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  1. JK1957 January 19, 2018 4:35 pm

    Money grabbers. I would say that they have a case given the power outage recently, but then I remember back to I-85 blowing up and realize that incompetence cuts both ways.Report

  2. Truth January 19, 2018 8:46 pm

    I feel like it’s in the state’s best interest to have a say in the international airport that we have

    Who is this “we”? The city of Atlanta has an international airport. This dude is from the middle of nowhere. What ownership does he have in Atlanta’s airport?

    The Republicans are in favor of local control of government, except when the local government is controlled by Democrats.Report

    1. Don Edwards January 22, 2018 11:54 pm

      Not about blue and red but black and white.Report

  3. G. Dodson January 19, 2018 10:48 pm

    Why aren’t the State Representatives focusing on Statewide Transportation first, before trying to control International Transportation? They should be negotiating with MARTA to develop a plan to connect the major cities by rail and rapid transportation. G.Report

  4. Chris Koch January 19, 2018 10:50 pm

    Okay, if they insist on grabbing the airport, as they have tried before, then the state should pay the COA fair market value. That should build the Beltline and expand MARTA.Report

    1. JK1957 January 20, 2018 1:10 pm

      Agreed, but I doubt that will ever happen. BackwaterAss Hollow has been suckling the meet of COA far too long to change now.Report

  5. Mike January 20, 2018 12:18 am

    I don’t think the state could do any worse than the city. Hartsfield is the busiest airport in the world and is constantly in termoil.
    Let the people who are interested in the state run the airport, not the city crooks in the Atlanta!Report

  6. atlman January 20, 2018 10:45 am

    The state built and funds GWCC and the port authority. They can’t take control of the airport without paying for it.

    Also Nathan Deal who actually enjoys a good relationship with the city will veto it.Report

  7. Greg Hodges January 20, 2018 11:19 am

    I’m just not comfortable with politicians and their underlings (be it at the city or at the state level) picking and choosing the contractors, vendors, and concessionaires that often receive plum deals, contracts, and assignments at the world’s busiest airport. The ” I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine ” method of doing business at the airport has been an open secret for many years. How I wish there were an INDEPENDENT (good luck with that) entity that could (in full view of everyone) scrutinize and publish ALL bids received for business at the airport and then release its findings as to who should get what …..again, EVERYTHING laid out on the table for all to see. But I’m sure that if such a scenario existed it would be fought tooth and nail by political interests who want to see ‘business as usual’ continue at the airport unchallenged.Report

  8. Natalie Clackum July 11, 2018 4:06 pm

    I agree with Greg. I know the corruption and greed driven airport intimately. Although I don’t agree with government oversight in many cases, this face needs a lift and hands need to be slapped from the cookie jars.Report

  9. Diana February 20, 2019 5:23 pm

    you are correct in that the vendor issue has been raised for years and years and some of those deals were outed so everyone learned about them, but it did not stop. don’t know if this is the case in every city that has a major airport but expect it may be. I also don’t know just how “good” the state is at running all of its entities, etc. I expect they have the same outlook as the city does with “helping each other”…..Report


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