For all we know

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 12:41 a.m.

Until significant issues of contention are resolved, local lawmakers should not pass a new airport authority bill.

For all we know, giving the Gainesville-Alachua County Airport Authority more independence to run the airport is an excellent idea.

For all we know, giving the authority more explicit land use and zoning powers is a logical next step in the evolution of our regional air transportation hub.

For all we know, the airport simply cannot take that next great leap forward until it is run by an independent authority able to make decisions quickly without being second-guessed by the city government that happens to own the airport.

The problem is that we don't know any of those things for sure at this point.

Indeed, from what we have been able to observe in recent years, the city has seemed nothing but supportive of the airport's efforts to grow and prosper. If there have been behind-the-scenes power struggles, then they've been very well hidden indeed.

So here is what we do know at this point.

That the Airport Authority has asked the Legislature to pass a bill clarifying its governing authority and autonomy.

And that the Gainesville City Commission is, at this moment, strenuously opposed to the bill.

And that, even though the authority and the commission are at loggerheads, state Rep. Ed Jennings Jr., D-Gainesville, intends to convene a public hearing this morning in Tallahassee to consider a bill that, at best, remains very much a work in progress.

"I don't know what all the angst is about," Jennings told The Sun on Tuesday. He described the bill as simply "clarifying some things they (the Airport Authority) have already been doing."

City officials don't agree. They think the bill raises significant issues regarding land use, control over public lands, bonding authority and other regulatory matters. Even if their concerns are overstated, there would seem to be legitimate reason to slow the process down.

So what's the rush?

If a more independent Airport Authority is an excellent idea in 2006, won't it be an equally compelling idea in 2007?

Whatever the merits of an independent authority, is it really a good idea to launch a new era of airport governance amidst the turbulence of intergovernmental feuding?

Wouldn't it be better for our legislative delegation to remain above the fray and direct the city and Airport Authority to work out their differences with an eye toward introducing legislation that both sides can support in 2006?

We think a year's time-out would be a wise and prudent course. Because it is always better to resolve local intergovernmental differences through collegial negotiation than by legislative fiat. At the very least, voters and taxpayers deserve to know more about the issues of contention and their public policy implications than can be fleshed out within the short time frame of the upcoming legislative session.

For all we know, the powers and duties of the Airport Authority really do need to be revised and expanded. But it's what we don't know about this "clarification" bill that cries out for a delay, at least until the turbulence has settled.

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