State Rep. Bob Smith, a Republican whose home district is based just south of Athens in Oconee County, is convinced that Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in need of state attention.
Specifically, he’s introduced legislation that would take authority for running the airport from the City of Atlanta and transfer it to an oversight board that consists of seven people. The seven would be the mayor of Atlanta, the presiding officer of Atlanta City Council, the Fulton and Clayton County commission chairmen and three members appointed by the governor.
State Sen. Kasim Reed, an Atlanta Democrat who would like to be Mayor Shirley Franklin’s successor, joined airport chief Ben DeCosta at a public hearing Tuesday in opposing the bill. The airport’s not broke so there’s no need to fix it, said DeCosta.
Smith cited long lines and other inconveniences and construction delays and cost overrruns on an international terminal as reasons to consider the change. His bill was introduced too late to be considered this session and is intended, he told members of a House subcommittee, to start a discussion. The discussion for DeCosta is that landing fees at the airport here are $1.25 per passenger compared to $6 in New York and are well below fees at major airports elsewhere. Too, he said, in a just-reported survey of passenger satisfaction, 71 percent of Atlanta passengers thought their experience here “outstanding.”
Smith’s a solid, hard-working legislator who’s conscientious in representing what he believes to be the taxpayers’ best interests. His bill won’t pass this year. So here’s the discussion-starter Smith wants. Should the state assume any greater role in the operation of Hartsfield-Atlanta International Airport?
As a general rule, I don’t want the state taking anything from a local government whether that’s an airport, a poorly-run hospital, a non-performing public school, the responsibilities of a dysfunctional school board, city council, water authority, or anything else. The state has greater access to money but rarely has greater expertise in running any of those functions normally carried out by local governments and authorities.