Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration has effectively joined the effort to ground a state takeover bid of Atlanta’s busy airport before it can take flight.
As word of Republican state Sen. Burt Jones’ measure to give the state oversight of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport percolated under the Gold Dome, the director of a key state agency penned a memo harshly critical of his plan.
The memo by Diana Pope of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission warned that adding a layer of state oversight “will cast a negative perception that could negatively impact credit ratings because of the potential disruption in services and the uncertainty of how it may impact existing and future business relationships.”
She also cautioned that there is nothing simple about creating a state oversight board. The airport authority has accumulated more than $3 billion in outstanding debt, and an overhaul could require the state to refund bonds because of recent tax changes.
“At this time, we do not know what all will be involved,” wrote Pope, head of the agency’s financing and investment division. “But it will be a very challenging transaction.”
She added praise for the airport, which has remained the busiest in the world and earned an upgraded bond rating in November 2016 in part because of new long-term contracts from vendors.
Those lucrative awards are at the center of a federal corruption probe – and one of the reasons Jones and allies argues the state should have more control of Atlanta’s crown jewel. He has yet to introduce the measure, but he’s said the state deserves to have a say in how the airport is run.
With the memo, though, Deal’s administration may have signaled it doesn’t want the takeover bid to jeopardize another prized asset: The state’s AAA bond rating. We’re told the governor’s top aide, Chris Riley, recently reinforced the point in a meeting with state Senate leaders.
Even before the pushback by Deal, the measure’s wings were clipped by House Speaker David Ralston. At a recent event sponsored by PoliticallyGeorgia, Ralston expressed concern about the bill and questioned whether Jones “looked to see what the liabilities by the airport are.”
A note of history to keep in mind: State lawmakers rumble every few years about a push to wrest more control over the airport. But they failed to gain much traction even when city-state relations were at a nadir. If anything, they are at a high point now.
More: Read the memo here.