Raleigh, N.C. — The control of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport will shift from the city to a new regional authority under legislation that the House tentatively approved Thursday.
The House voted 72-42 in favor of Senate Bill 81, and a final vote is expected Monday night. The Senate would then have to agree to the House's changes before the proposal is sent to Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, for consideration.
Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, whose district includes the airport, said he has struggled with the bill, saying that he was adamantly opposed to the change in control until Thursday morning, when he decided to back the measure.
"There's only one thing that matters here, and that's keeping that airport healthy," Jeter said. "I'm not sure that this is the best way, but we can't let good be the enemy of great."
Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, noted that the legislation calls for the regional authority to compensate Charlotte for the loss of the airport, which is valued at $3.5 billion to $4 billion. He predicted that the authority would eventually turn to lawmakers for help paying off that bill.
"A vote for this measure is a vote to increase taxes on the citizens of North Carolina for a dubious change," Alexander said.
Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, said airport employees worry about the change, and she asked that lawmakers give city officials more time to negotiate with lawmakers over the airport's future.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said lawmakers have tried to work with Charlotte officials, but city leaders have refused to budge and consider outside management, even though a consultant recommended the change.
Charlotte-Douglas is the sixth-busiest airport in the world based on the number of planes that pass through it each year and No. 27 worldwide based on the number of passengers, according to Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg.
"We're hitting way above our weight class," Brawley said, noting Charlotte competes against hubs in Atlanta, New York and Chicago. "We need to ensure the long-term health of that hub."