April 9, 2020 Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: A nearly empty street leaving the airport for Atlanta at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday April 9, 2020. Coronavirus figures (updated April 8, 7pm): Deaths: 369 | Hospitalized: 2,082 | Confirmed cases: 10,189. The AJC is covering the coronavirus outbreak with a focus on what it means to Atlanta and Georgia. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC
So much so that she ensured there was language in the national Democratic Party platform, which would ostensibly guide Joe Biden if he wins the presidency, that outright opposes any “partisan power grabs” of public infrastructure projects like Atlanta’s crown jewel.
Kemp has never publicly endorsed the airport takeover bid. In fact, records show he privately opposed a push by Senate Republicans last year to hand the state control of the project.
But he also didn’t stop it from nearly passing the Legislature, which he could have thwarted with a few choice words or a veto threat.
Now, in the middle of an unraveling relationship with Bottoms, some of the half-dozen senior GOP officials interviewed late Wednesday predict that Kemp could be more inclined to endorse the idea.
Others see the specter of the legislation as a bargaining chip for the governor in settlement negotiations with Bottoms over the lawsuit he brought.
No ‘big deal’
Officially, Kemp said he was compelled to call lawmakers back because of “legitimate questions” involving an incorrect tracking number in House Bill 105, which includes a tax break for federal payments for victims of the storm.
Rick Ruskell, the General Assembly’s legislative counsel, said in an interview he was asked about the issue that Kemp cited before the bill was passed and that he believes no fix is needed.
“It had no impact on the bill that was duly passed by both legislative chambers. I don’t see any problem with the legislative process of the bill,” he said. “I’m confident that the bill as passed was clear.”
In a joint statement, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said they also don’t think the measure is legally problematic – and they threatened to use the special session to override his veto of a separate healthcare bill.
That measure, House Bill 991, would have created a new board to scrutinize state healthcare contractors, which the two legislative leaders said would bring “critical oversight to taxpayer dollars.”
They would need two-thirds approval of both chambers to reverse the veto by Kemp, who said in a statement he nixed the bill because it violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
Some lawmakers chafed at the thought of returning to the Legislature during a pandemic, a process that will last at least a week and require safety protocol such as socially distanced voting, even if it only involved the hurricane relief bill.
06/26/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Georgia Senators embrace in the Senate Chambers after the legislative session ended on Sine Die, day 40, of the legislative session in Atlanta, Friday, June 26, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
State Rep. Sam Watson, a Moultrie Republican who sponsored the measure, didn’t object to Kemp’s call though he said he was advised the issue he referenced “wasn’t a big deal.”
“There’s a lot going on in the world today, so who’s to say we weren’t going to have a special session anyway. We’ve waited two years for this money and it’s just now starting to come in. It’s vitally important we get this right.”
Building a history
If Kemp pushes the airport measure, the calculus gets tricky. His office declined to comment and the timing of the session remains unclear.
A full-scale state takeover attempt would take years of litigation and bureaucratic wrangling. Factor in the potential of a President Biden, who would surely direct federal authorities to side with the city, and any push for state control of the airport would be nixed.
But scaled-back plans for an oversight board – there’s that word again – could presumably be more swiftly implemented. And, several lawmakers noted, it wouldn’t be the first time a special session for Hurricane Michael relief was also used for other purposes.
As the AJC’s James Salzer reports, then-Gov. Nathan Deal called the General Assembly back to Atlanta in 2018 to provide state support for the storm’s victims. But lawmakers also tacked on a tax break on aviation fuel that benefited Delta Air Lines and other carriers that Deal had long sought.
“It’s Groundhog Day all over again,” quipped state Rep. Terry Rogers, R-Clarkesville. “I love history because it’s always repeating itself. And we must be building a lot of history this year because we just keep on repeating it over and over.”