As a bill for a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport moves from the Georgia Senate to the House for consideration, House speaker David Ralston said he has yet to hear a convincing reason for the move.
In an interview aired by Georgia Public Broadcasting after the Senate voted Thursday in favor of the bill, Ralston said he hadn’t yet read the bill, but added: “I’m going to have to be convinced that there’s a compelling case to be made for the state taking over that kind of operation and that kind of liability.”
“I have yet to hear that case, frankly,” Ralston said. “But I’ll give a fair hearing to those who believe that we should do that.”
State Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, has pointed to the federal investigation of Atlanta City Hall and contracting scandals in support of his push for a state authority to run the world’s busiest airport, currently operated by the city.
“At some point in time you have to have tough conversations to address issues that are really a blight on your state as a whole,” Jones said.
The city of Atlanta’s former chief procurement officer Adam Smith, who oversaw contracts throughout the city and the airport, was sentenced to prison last year for his role in a cash-for-contracts bribery scandal. The day before the state Senate voted on the airport takeover bill, a longtime contractor with the city of Atlanta was charged with bribery, witness tampering and tax evasion. Prosecutors allege that the contractor, Jeff Jafari, made payments to Smith.
Ralston acknowledged the reports of “criminal conduct,” but told GPB: “You get past that, the airport seems to be operating in a very efficient way.”
“And so we’ll take a look and see what happens now that it’s coming over here to the House,” Ralston said. “And we’ve still got about three weeks or so to resolve that issue.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has vehemently opposed the takeover, and her spokesman said in a statement Friday that the mayor’s administration “continues to have productive conversations with elected officials—from both parties—as well as community and business partners to grow our alliance and prevent this malicious and unnecessary theft of the airport.”
On the Senate floor Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, criticized the measure for the state to override a municipality and called the bill “reckless,” saying “it shows a total dismissal of the potential dire economic consequences that could follow were this bill to become law.”
“In the eyes of many, there’s an old trope here that’s quietly bubbling beneath the surface, we fear,” Orrock said. “That is the old trope that black people can’t run things…. That is said in the face of an airport whose track record is incredible in terms of our achievements.”
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