Apr 17, 2023 - News

Tennessee GOP close to airport board overhaul

Photo: courtesy of Nashville International Airport

Republican lawmakers are on the brink of passing legislation to give state leaders control of the Nashville Airport Authority.

State of play: The bill advanced this session despite opposition from Nashville leaders and concerns expressed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

  • Up until now, Airport Authority board members have been appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Metro Council. The proposal from state Rep. Johnny Garrett, a Sumner County Republican, would grant the governor, House and Senate speakers the power to appoint board members.

Why it matters: The success of Nashville International Airport is a vital ingredient for the regional economy.

  • Business is booming at the airport, which serves as the gateway to Music City's thriving tourism industry. BNA is also in the midst of a multibillion-dollar renovation.

What he's saying: Garrett argues that since the airport doesn't receive Metro funding and has a regional impact, it would make sense for the state to control the board.

  • The airport is primarily funded by travelers' fees. Garrett pointed out that over the last decade, the state has contributed over $140 million to the airport while Metro has not committed any funding.
  • "This is a unique and a very awesome asset we have here," he said.

The other side: The FAA sent a letter to airport leadership expressing concerns over the legislation and indicating the federal agency would need to give its approval. Garrett told the House committee that he collaborated with U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty to address the agency's concerns.

  • Former state budget director Bill Bradley testified to a House committee last week that passing the legislation would create legal limbo. The board members would be appointed by state leaders, but other parts of state law designate the airport as a Metro asset.
  • "You will have created an untethered agency for which Metro government is financially accountable, without effective control by Metro," Bradley argued.

What's next: A different version of the bill has already been approved by the Senate. That version gives the two legislative speakers, the governor and the mayor each two appointments.

  • Garrett's version provides three appointments each for the governor, the House speaker and the lieutenant governor. The mayor's designee would be a nonvoting member.
  • The House version is expected to receive a final vote this week. If it is approved, lawmakers would have to decide whether to pass the House or Senate version into law.
  • Mayor John Cooper's administration has opposed the bill, and if it does become law, a legal challenge is possible.

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