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Setting the Record Straight on Charlotte Douglas
​Op-Ed by Mayor Patsy Kinsey
September 6, 2013

*A version of this op-ed appeared in the September 6, 2013, issue of the Charlotte Business Journal.

The City of Charlotte has successfully managed Charlotte Douglas International Airport for more than 75 years and turned it into one of the busiest, lowest-cost airports in the world, with an annual economic impact of $12 billion.

From the beginning, the proposal put forth by the Legislature to change the airport’s governance has been a solution in search of a problem.  The more people have learned about it, the more they’ve questioned it.  To this day, the City has never been given a credible reason to change the system that has worked since 1935.

The lawmakers’ arguments for stealing the airport are based on several misrepresentations.

Myth:  The Mayor and City Council have done a poor job managing Charlotte’s finances and want to raid the airport’s revenues to use as they please.

Fact:  Federal law clearly provides that airport revenues cannot be used to fund non-airport municipal services or programs—and the Mayor and Council have never done so.  Since 1986, the City has raised taxes only twice.  Despite the impact of the financial recession, the City has maintained its AAA bond rating—the highest available.

Myth:  The City wants to illegally take money from the airport for transit projects.

Fact:  Airport revenues could only be used to fund the portion of a transit project that operates on airport property and in a manner that doesn’t violate FAA and FTA rules.  The former Aviation Director was appropriately interested in having the airport served by transit.  In the event that such plans are finalized, he and the CATS CEO agreed in a May 30 memo to explore all available funding sources to help pay for the portion of the project that would operate on airport property, with airport revenues representing just one of the potential funding sources.

Myth:  The City put CMPD in charge of airport security because it needed a place for officers once funded by federal stimulus dollars.

Fact:  The expiration of federal stimulus dollars for police officers and the decision to place CMPD in charge of airport security are entirely separate issues. After the stimulus grant ended in FY 12, the City Council approved shifting the funding for those officers to the City’s General Fund/City revenues (property and sales taxes), as was planned all along.

A review conducted by CMPD revealed significant security deficiencies at the airport in 2012, prompting the former City Manager to enhance security to protect the airport and its passengers.  Added security resulted in higher costs, which have been reduced once and are undergoing further review by the current City Manager. 

In a March 18, 2013, letter to CMPD, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stated that it was “…delighted to learn that CMPD would be taking over all law enforcement functions” at the airport and that, “In the short time CMPD has been active at the airport, its leadership has been outstanding.”

Myth:  The City has “meddled” in airport operations.

Fact:  In response to a February 25, 2010, examination letter from the IRS, the City’s finance department and tax attorney identified several accounting violations made by the Aviation department with respect to the City’s tax-exempt airport revenue bonds.  While the IRS allowed these violations to be corrected without penalty, a financial, debt management, and accounting policy was put in place by the City and agreed to by the former Aviation Director to ensure that similar violations would not occur in the future.

Myth:  The City has invested no tax dollars in the airport.

Fact:  Since 1935, the City has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in the airport and in support of it.  The Capital Investment Plan passed by the City Council this spring, for example, includes more than $44 million for two road improvement projects that support the intermodal yard and other economic development opportunities around the airport.  City investments were also critical to the establishment of the airport, which is in fact named for a former Mayor.  As the airport's website notes, “In 1935, with the leadership and foresight of Mayor Ben Elbert Douglas Sr. (for whom Charlotte Douglas International Airport is named), Charlotte voters approved a bond that brought the airport under the management of municipal administrators and set the stage for the expansion that was to come.”

Myth:  Under the bill passed by the Legislature, the airport would still be controlled by the City.

Fact:  While the City would still own the airport, the legislation creates a separate commission charged with operating it.  It’s like someone telling you that you own your car, but you can’t drive it.

The City of Charlotte built Charlotte Douglas into one of the world’s best airports and is committed to further growing it as an economic engine for the City and the State.  Taking the airport away from the organization that has nurtured it and turning it over to a new, untested group of 13 political appointees simply isn’t a good idea.

We will continue to keep the lines of communication with Raleigh open as we work to make Charlotte Douglas the best it can be.  For more information, please visit http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/Pages/Airportgovernancestudy.aspx

 

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