Raleigh, N.C. — A bill meant to resolve the legal tug-of-war over Charlotte Douglas International Airport faced turbulence before passing the Senate on Wednesday.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the legislation answers questions surrounding the dispute over the airport, which Charlotte officials say was removed from the city’s control after a state law passed last year placed it in the hands of a regional commission. The measure sparked a lawsuit that has since been in limbo, with a judge waiting to rule until the Federal Aviation Administration issues a certificate allowing the commission to operate the airport.
“We’re trying to find a point of closure in this case so that we could end the discord and move forward in allowing the airport to grow as an economic engine,” Rucho said, noting that the legislation clarifies that although the commission administers the airport, the city still owns it.
But Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, said Charlotte-area lawmakers lacked sufficient input into the bill.
“While this bill before us is procedurally correct, it breaks the spirit of the rules,” Graham said. “I’m disturbed again that we are here debating what is a significant economic generator for our region and for our city.”
The bill’s sponsors in the House did not communicate with Charlotte officials, he said. He read a letter from former state Sen. Dan Clodfelter, now the mayor of Charlotte, who said he was “disappointed in this new piece of legislation.”
The bill has soared on a fast track and further fuels distrust between Charlotte leaders and state lawmakers, said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, Clodfelter's replacement in the Senate.
“There is a divide between Charlotte and Raleigh. This bill will only serve to deepen that divide,” Jackson said. “This bill was dropped on us yesterday. We were all very suspicious.”
Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein said the bill fails to meet a requirement that local bills in the short session are non-controversial.
“This is the definition of controversial,” said Stein, D-Wake.
The bill will be sent back to the House for a final vote.