Texas lawmakers have agreed to a temporary cease-fire in the Wright Amendment debate, to give North Texas officials several months to devise a local solution.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who announced the agreement Thursday after meeting with the Texas congressional delegation in Washington, said she will lobby senators from other states to stand down for now on their efforts to repeal the controversial federal law that limits passenger flights at Dallas Love Field and, critics say, air travel competition.
Under the plan, North Texas lawmakers, even those supporting repeal, will defer to the Fort Worth and Dallas mayors for a short time to allow them to work out a solution. Hutchison met with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the eight members of the North Texas delegation in Hutchison's Capitol office.
"We have an agreement of our delegation," Hutchison said as she emerged from the meeting. "If the cities pass resolutions asking Congress to stand down, we will honor that."
Next week, the councils for Fort Worth and Dallas plan to vote on similar resolutions asking Congress to suspend further action on the Wright Amendment until Oct. 1, the mayors said.
Several members of the Fort Worth City Council said they would support such a measure. Others said they would have to see details first. The mayors plan to continue regular talks.
The four Tarrant County delegation members -- Republicans Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Joe Barton of Ennis, Michael Burgess of Flower Mound and Kenny Marchant of Coppell -- attended Hutchison's meeting.
"We've all agreed to give local leaders an opportunity," said Barton, a fierce defender of the Wright Amendment.
Granger said Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief and Dallas Mayor Laura Miller "asked Congress to stand down."
The authors of a bill repealing the Wright Amendment -- GOP Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Dallas and Sam Johnson of Plano -- attended the meeting and agreed to let the mayors try to come up with a plan. Hensarling said the deal "amounted to a legislative cease-fire."
"I'm certainly open to anyone who has a plan, a method, a timetable, to get rid of the Wright Amendment," he said.
Johnson said he won't abandon his bill, but he felt that having the mayors talking was a good development. "I think it's a giant step forward," he said.
Hutchison said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., are still intent on changing the law. But Hutchison said she will lobby them to allow the Texas officials more time. And she said she had the support of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the aviation subcommittee chairman, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., in objecting to any legislative actions taking place on an appropriations bill.
Miller and Moncrief met privately Thursday in an office at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where they are members of the board.
Miller said she and Moncrief are working to forge a deal "as soon as possible."
"We really believe we can get a local solution to the problem, and we have a fast track to do that," Miller said.
She declined to be more specific and acknowledged that she and Moncrief have been "tight-lipped" about solutions.
"We think this is a sensitive situation and the two cities need to stay in sync; we just need to do some work first," she said. "We've come a long way from the days when cities were suing each other and barely speaking."
The idea of a regional authority, which would own D/FW Airport and Love Field, remains an option, they said.
They declined to specify any other options.
"I'm not ready to sign off on any of them yet, and I don't think Mayor Miller is either," Moncrief said.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines declined to comment.
Fort Worth-based American Airlines is willing to talk as long as others negotiating are willing to listen to all possibilities, including shutting Love Field to commercial traffic, said Tim Wagner, an American spokesman.
American also maintains that the Wright Amendment, passed by Congress in the 1970s to protect the then-new D/FW from competition at Love, was a deal that should be honored.
The Wright Amendment limits flights at Love to within Texas and nearby states, and several states want to eliminate it to increase competition and lower fares at D/FW and Love.
Some Fort Worth council members are less inclined to discuss compromises.
One, Becky Haskin, said she's not sure she'll agree to a resolution asking Congress for more time, because she needs to see the details. She said she doesn't trust Dallas anymore.
"They'd have to sign in blood first, and we might take their first-born child while we're at it," she said. "It's a huge trust issue when you're going for your third compromise. Give me a break."
Several options have emerged as possible solutions. They include:
A time frame for a gradual phaseout of the Wright Amendment.
A cap on potential growth at Love Field.
A regional airport authority that would own D/FW and Love.
Allowing connecting or one-stop direct ticketing, but not nonstops, from Love to long-haul destinations.
"I don't have a druther right now," Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan said. "I think we need to be objective in the approach as we work it out and legitimately try to work out a consensus that works best for the region."
The North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Southwest Airlines in its attempt to repeal the Wright Amendment, said forming a regional authority could be long and complicated.
"In particular, the role of [Fort Worth] Alliance Airport plus the involvement of municipal airports in Addison, McKinney and Denton will all need to be included," spokesman Corey Hill said.
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