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Compromise still possible on airport control legislation

JOHN HORHN

JOHN HORHN

By TED CARTER

State Sen. John Horhn of Jackson’s unsuccessful amendments on the Senate floor last week could indicate what a compromise on governance of Jackson’s airports might look like.

Some of the changes designed to make the legislation authored by Sen. Josh Harkins of Flowood more acceptable to opponents could be made in the House-Senate conference committee. A reverse repealer Harkins put in the bill will help to keep it alive until it reaches the conference committee but without removal of the repealer at some point the bill has no effect.

Under one proposal, Horhn sought to have the state pay Jackson up to $96 million for Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International, Hawkins Field and all other land and buildings the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority owns. Horhn’s proposal would have kept all sales tax and property tax revenues from Airport Authority operations flowing to City Hall.

“If the State is going to take this property, at least pay the City of Jackson for it,” Horhn said, brushing aside the several assurances from bill sponsor Josh Harkins that Jackson would keep ownership of all property and revenues..

The amendment failed on a 30 to 18 vote.

Horhn also failed with an amendment to create a Jackson municipal airport development council to determine “the highest and best use of land not contained in the current footprint” of the airport. The new council would next explore how to optimize land suitable for development of retail, commercial, manufacturing and warehouse distribution operations.

A key task would be to determine the manner and types of incentives that would be needed to achieve development goals. The council would be authorized to seek the incentives from private, federal and state sources and use them to attract development.

While approval of land deals would rest with the land development council, the council would have no say in decisions the current Jackson Municipal Airport Authority makes.

The amendment failed on a 30-18 vote.

Horhn also unsuccessfully sought to put several other municipal-run airports in the state under control of state-created regional boards. Specifically, any airport authority serving a population of 20,000 or more would be dissolved and all powers, duties, properties, personnel and resources would be transferred to a regional airport authority of five members appointed by the governor.

“Let’s put them all under the governor,” Horhn said of the city-run airports.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, presiding as president of the Senate, ruled Horhn’s amendment not germane.

Horhn also failed in an amendment to scratch Hawkins Field from the airport-policy board transfer. Sponsor Harkins said he put Hawkins Field in the legislation solely on the advice of Carl Newman, Airport Authority CEO.

Newman has declined all comment on Harkins’ legislation but he is reported to have based his advice to Harkins on a desire for Hawkins Field to continue to receive support from Jackson Evers International.

The amendment failed on a voice vote.

In an interview the day after the Senate vote, Horhn said he can be flexible on the Airport Authority’s  representation. “I think there could be some healthy conversation about adding some other voices to the Airport Authority,” he said.

Proponents of the governance transfer say Jackson Evers has not lived up to its potential in recent decades. Horhn said he does not buy that claim entirely but added he sees some truth to it. “I think there is always room for improvement,” he said, but added” “That discussion needs to be held without the threat of litigation and without the threat of legislation.”

If the state insists on having a more direct role in the policy making, it must specify what “resources it can bring to that,” the Jackson senator said. “What sort of incentives need to be put in place?”

A good first step, he said, is to create more trust and better communication among all parties.

“I am optimistic we are going to get something everybody can live with.”

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