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The North Carolina Senate approved legislation Wednesday afternoon to shift control of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the City of Charlotte to an independent regional authority.
Senate Bill 81 creates a 13-member board to own and manage the airport, with members appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tempore, as well as local governments in Mecklenburg and five surrounding counties (Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln and Union), according to a news release from Sen. Bob Rucho's office.
"The Charlotte airport is a huge economic driver for the region and the state, with the lowest cost hub in the country," said Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), the bill's sponsor, said in a statement.
Rucho delayed a vote on the bill last week to further consider the impact of $800 million in debt financed with airport revenue bonds issued by the city.
The bill did have it's share of critics including State Senator Malcolm Graham of Charlotte who wanted legislators to take their time before making a decision.
"In this chamber, facts should matter,"he said." In this chamber we owe the citizens more 55 minutes of debate on a 12 billion dollar enterprise.We owe them that."
Meanwhile, state senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville claimed the state is not grabbing anything from the city of Charlotte.
"We're talking about taking a airport and making an airport authority, where all of the folks around it get to participate."
After passing down party lines, its sponsor openly criticized how the city of Charlotte is running the airport.
"I think they are scurrying around trying to find any possible way to take the money from the airport and utilize it for their own agenda,"he said.
Charlotte City Councilman dismissed the theory.
Dulin said, "If he eluded that the City was going to siphon money to pay for other services then that's untrue."
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx reacted to the senate's decision by saying should stay out of business of airport management.
"We frankly don't agree with what's being proposed, but how it's being proposed."52:17
Fierce debate came earlier this week, when the North Carolina Senate decided to take airport operations from the City of Charlotte and place it into the hands of a regional airport authority.
State Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County has been fielding calls from constituents who may influence her decision.
"I'm hearing from people who mostly support the idea of an authority. I've gotten a few emails from people who don't," she said.
Who rules one of the shiniest jewels in the Queen City may depend on the outcome of a study backed by the Mayor and Council along with a soon to be released report the state treasurer's office.
"I think there is an interest in figuring out what the problem is to be solved. I think there is also some concerns not only on the airport, but also on the city, "Foxx said.
A measured amount of time is expected, once the bill hits the house.
"If you think slow is the end April then there's some questions we do have so time to answer and the study can come back and give us answers to the questions," Samuelson said.
Airport authorities are often the preferred method of ownership for public airports because their leadership is free to focus on airport issues with less political interference. Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Piedmont Triad International Airport are both owned and managed by authorities.
The Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the world's sixth busiest airport and is the largest hub for US Airways.