By Scott Robertson
The Aerospace Park project at Tri-Cities Airport is that rarest of all political topics – something virtually everyone can agree on. The city governments of Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport unanimously agreed it’s an idea worth funding. The commissions of Washington and Sullivan County agreed. Sullivan County Commission voted unanimously in favor. Washington had two nay votes on a 25-member commission. None of those governments would have gone along with funding the project if they didn’t trust the airport authority to administer it.
Yet a member of the Tennessee General Assembly, 7th District Representative Matthew Hill, has taken it upon himself to decide another layer of government bureaucracy is necessary to oversee not only that project, but every single thing the airport authority does. Who does Representative Hill believe would do a better job of administering the needs of a regional airport better than the existing group of local government representatives and airport management professionals? Why he would, of course.
House Bill 2602, which Hill sponsors, creates an “executive board” to oversee the actions of the airport authority. That board – quoting the bill here – “is composed of the general assembly members that represent the municipalities and counties participating in the regional airport commission.” So Hill is attempting to create for himself and the rest of the members of the Washington and Sullivan County legislative delegation a new job: airport manager.
The way the bill is written, the newly created executive board of state legislators would completely handcuff the existing authority. Again, quoting the bill, the airport authority could “not take any action without first obtaining the approval for such action from the executive board.”
Need to authorize payment to fix a sinkhole in the runway? Sorry, we have to wait for the executive board’s approval. Have a short time window in which to negotiate a deal for new air service to another market? Representative Hill is currently out of the office, but please leave a message and the executive board will get back to you.
We have butted heads with Representative Hill in this space before. We have never had cause to question his bona fides as a conservative before, though, until now. Conservatives, by definition, believe the best government happens at the smallest level. Local government is more accountable than state government, which is absolutely preferable to federal government. Yet House Bill 2602 is a power grab that accomplishes nothing but take decision-making power from a group of local leaders and place it in the hands of state government officials.
The only other actions taken in the bill are to mandate the authority provide the executive board with an annual report, and to mandate the authority, “not employ, enter or renew a contract with, a lobbyist.”
Representative Hill apparently disagrees with the current authority’s decision to hire Stones River, a lobbying firm. That hire was made to help convince Hill’s fellow legislators to come up with $4 million necessary to fully fund the Aerospace Park project.
Is that any reason to decide the authority cannot be trusted to make ANY decisions without his oversight? Or is it just that Rep. Hill feels shown up by the Stones River hire? Why shouldn’t he? If the authority had any reason to believe Hill would get the job done, they wouldn’t have spent the money for a lobbyist, would they?