Atlanta pushes back against Hartsfield-Jackson takeover plan

Photo by Barry Williams/Getty Images

Atlanta city officials are pushing back against a proposal in the Georgia Senate for a state takeover of Atlanta's airport, one of the busiest in the world.

Michael Smith, press secretary for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, said the plan amounted to "theft" from the city in a statement Friday.

The legislation, introduced by Republican state Sen. Burt Jones of Jackson, would create the Georgia Major Airport Authority, a board appointed by state officials to oversee operations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The airport is currently owned and operated by the city of Atlanta.

MORE: Who should control Atlanta's airport?

Jones said in an interview Friday that state oversight was needed because of past issues with corruption.

"For decades now the airport, while it has had plenty of success, has had a lot of investigations, indictments and things that have taken place, particularly at the procurement and vendor selection process, that are really troubling," Jones said.

He said a structural change was needed in the airport's operations to help deal with those issues.

But the mayor, who last year took a series of steps to revamp the procurement process for airport food and retail contracts, is fighting back against Jones' proposal.

"The attempted theft of the Atlanta airport is leading Georgia down a reckless path toward irreparable harm to both the City and State's economies and relationship," Smith said, adding that the "region will suffer with the disruption and uncertainty that this theft will create."

Jones said that, while it was a "tough conversation to have" with city officials, he thought it was an issue that needed to be addressed. Jones said he had not been in direct contact with the mayor's office about the bill in recent weeks, but that he had "an open door policy."

The airport's website calls it "the economic jewel of Georgia" and says the facility generates $34.8 billion in economic impact for metro Atlanta and provides more than 63,000 on-site jobs.

The legislation, which has 29 Senate co-signers in addition to Jones, cleared a hurdle on Tuesday when it was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee by a vote of 5 to 4.

Jones said he believes the bill will see a vote on the Senate floor by Thursday, a legislative deadline by which bills must generally have passed one chamber or the other.

An amendment added in committee would give the city until July 1, 2020 to come up with a "joint governance plan" agreed to by the city and state legislature to avoid a full takeover by the state.