Mayor Reed briefs Atlanta chamber on transportation, pensions and airport bonds

By Maria Saporta
Story has been updated

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed briefed the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber this morning on the state transportation funding bills, the city’s pension crisis and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

“Those are the core issues that they care about,” Reed said after spending about 45 minutes meeting with the business organization.

Reed said there still is an opportunity to “get a meaningful transportation bill this session,” and he urged the business leaders to “redouble our efforts” in the last two weeks of the session.

“The conference committee is in place, and we are capable of getting a bill in place,” Reed said he told the executives. But he added that their “help is vital.”

Reed also used the opportunity to give the chamber leaders an update on the city’s ever-increasing pension obligations.

“What we can do immediately is to bend the spending curve, both the size of the workforce and the increase in costs related to pension benefits,” Reed said. That is growing at 9 percent to 14 percent a year, and that’s unsustainable.”

Reed said he would be laying out part of his plan to deal with the city’s pension problems at the 2010 State of the City Business Breakfast on Friday morning at the Hilton Atlanta.

The last topic the mayor discussed with business leaders was the future leadership at Atlanta’s airport. Ben DeCosta, the airport’s general manager, has decided to step down from his position at the end of June.

“We will have an open and transparent process as we’ve had for the other cabinet positions,” Reed said of the upcoming search for DeCosta’s successor. “I also expressed my sense, that because of the reputation of Atlanta’s airport, it will be a relatively easy search. We have the biggest airport, the biggest airline.”

And Reed added that the universe of major airport general managers is fairly small, which narrows the number of potential candidates.

One person who will not be Hartsfield-Jackson’s next general manager is Mario Diaz, who has been serving as the deputy. Diaz was recruited to run Houston’s airport, and he will be starting that job next month.

“He had a guarantee with the folks in Houston, and given that opportunity, he just couldn’t pass it up,” Reed said. “It does speak to the depth of leadership that we have at the airport.”

Meanwhile, Reed, DeCosta and Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson are getting ready to sell bonds to finance the airport’s expansion.

“The process will begin in the next 10 to 15 days,” Reed said of the proposed bond sale.

It is expected that the city will first go to market wanting to sell up to $800 million in bonds to build the international terminal. About 90 days after that sale is complete (likely in late summer or early fall), the city will then try to sell another $590 million, partly for refinancing existing debt service. Then next year, the city could try to sell another $500 million in bonds for a possible total of $1.9 billion.

Reed said the search for DeCosta’s replacement will not begin until after the bonds are sold. Reed said having an ongoing search while DeCosta is on the phone trying to help in that bond issue might confuse potential buyers.

“I think that would be a big distraction while we are selling the bonds,” Reed said.

After the executive committee meeting, chamber leaders spoke of how well Mayor Reed did in his presentation.

“It was clear to every one in the room that he’s on top of issues, he’s got a plan, and he’s going to implement that plan,” said Mike Garrett, president and CEO of Georgia Power and a past chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Sam Williams, the chamber’s president agreed.

“The mayor knocked it out of the park,” Williams said. “The mayor really understands the legislative process and the status of the negotiations. The mayor said he was freeing up his calendar for the remaining days of the session. He said he will be shoulder to shoulder to make sure we get a good regional TSPLOST.”

Later in the day, at the Regional Transit Committee meeting, Reed acknowledged that he had made that pledge to chamber leaders.

“The passage of the bill is so important, and on close votes, one or two votes matter,” Reed said. “I’ll do what I can to be helpful and to be effective. You need to stay real close to the process.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

8 replies
  1. shirley says:

    I love it too. Reed was the best qualified candidate running for mayor. He won because the majority of voters agreed. As for my record that isn’t the point at this point. Atlanta’s strength has been moving the ball forward and building on past successes and neutralizing the problems of the past. I did that when I replaced Mayor Campbell and Reed will do the same. The Chamber members were divided among the candidates in the campaign but it is great they are supporting Mayor Reed now. History shows the city is better off when civic, business and political leaders combine their efforts.Report

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  2. Yr1215 says:

    I think those are all points anyone can agree to. Onward and forward.

    (Although as I mentioned in some other posts, the press can be a bit bipolar, and you were handed a lot of ticking time bombs. I think everyone appreciates the vastly improved ethics and the elimination of the sewer problem.)

    Governing isn’t easy.Report

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  3. Art says:

    I too have been very supportive of all of Atlanta’s progressive efforts to lead the pack. However the beltline’s timetable, as well as the general attitude toward the city from rural Ga has left me, and many of my young friends with a very sour taste for the lack of respect for my financial sacrifices for the rest of this overall rural place! I/we are tired of this get along attitude that the city has taken of late. It is a very different place than what it was in the early nineties. A lot less tolerant of it’s diverse citizens that made the in town communities, and a absolute push over to the state policies. These problems require fast, brilliant, fearless drive to get things done. Why can things be shoved down my tax paying dollar, and the city cannot play the same kind of dirty poker? Some may not want to be so vulgar in getting things done, but it is the way of America today, and very much apart of Ga, and it’s history. The good old farm days are gone, and today it seems that the only kind of news people want is Fox, so play like they want it. I have no doubt who is smarter!
    I give this city another couple of years before I pack up and move to more progressive places, without all of the deep rooted problems. I hope I see some real change soon, I know that I am not alone….Report

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  4. Yr1215 says:

    Art, I think change is already in progress. But things like transportation projects take a long time. I reference the “big dig” in Boston as an example. I hope (and Reed intends) that the Beltline doesn’t take as long, but it might.

    I think our city is on the right track, improving managerially over the Campbell era. There are still financial challenges. And other changes (transportation) doesn’t happen overnight. I understand the lack of patience. Frankly, if a city is too unsatisfying in certain regards, you do just have to move to some place that suits your lifestyle better. But Atlanta is making significant progress.Report

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  5. Joe says:

    Hmmm, wonder what it says about Diaz that, even with the knowledge that DeCosta is retiring, he left to take a deal with the Houston airport?

    If this city does not develop some rail capabilities, it is going to continue heading towards Detroit. Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh are leaving Atlanta in the dust. Those cities are not saddled with the ridiculous racial politics that plays a role in every, single decision that is made in Atlanta, and those politics are dooming the city. Decisions need to be made that favor the CITY, not a race.Report

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  6. Yr1215 says:

    Joe, I agree with your last sentence. But you can call me naive because I don’t think race is playing a big (or any) role in Reed’s choices.

    If I had to guess, Reed wanted his own new person running the show with a fresh start. I’m not an insider, so I don’t have any facts to back this up, but it would seem consistent with his overall philosophy. If there is race pressure, I imagine it could come from some airport vendors. But Reed probably just wants a well run airport.Report

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  7. FJ says:

    Joe as critical as I am of some things involving the city government, the Detroit comment is simply moronic. The fact of the matter is that the city grew by 25% this decade – very un-Detroit like.

    The only evidence of race playing a role in this instance is in your own speculation.Report

    Reply

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