published Thursday, March 21st, 2013

TAC Air bill grounded until 2014

Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Legislation intervening in a dispute between TAC Air and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority was grounded until 2014 in the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plain, told colleagues, “I don’t think any of us want tax dollars to be used to compete with the private sector.”

But Niceley said, “I think we need a little time to cool this off” and put the measure off.

TAC Air provides fuel and hangar space for private airplanes at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. The company and the airport have been battling since 2011 over local officials’ use of state Transportation Equity Fund to build a competing facility run by another private company.

The bill prevents dollars from the state fund, which comes from a tax on fuel purchased in Tennessee, to be used by any airport to fund competing operations involving a private company.

None of the bill’s Senate and House sponsors are from Hamilton County. TAC Air backs the bill while the airport opposes it. Both sides hired lobbyists to represent them.

TAC Air lobbyist Lee Barfield charged that the airport’s action amounts to “government-subsidized competition” and noted that as an airport tenant, the company pays a “healthy monthly lease” to the airport authority.

He said state law does not clearly prohibit use of state Transportation Equity Fund money for airports to “compete directly” against the private sector.

Airport lobbyist Lana Johnston called the bill “misguided” and said TAC Air is a monopoly. The airport decided to “invest” in competition because the company’s fuel charges were out of line with other cities, she said.

The company disputes its charges were above average.

Earlier, the bill came up in the House Transportation Subcommittee. It was delayed a week, but Niceley’s decision to move the bill until next year effectively kills any chance of it becoming law this year.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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