Dallas Council Passes Wright Resolution

March 9, 2006
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution asking Congress to postpone action on the controversial Wright Amendment until after June 14.

DALLAS -- The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday asking Congress to postpone action on the controversial Wright Amendment until after June 14, joining Fort Worth in promising to try and solve the long-running dispute over flight restrictions at Dallas Love Field.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller called the day "extraordinary" in that "both cities would say, 'We want a solution to this problem, and we feel confident that we can get there.'"

Southwest Airlines, which has been aggressively campaigning to repeal the Wright Amendment, one-upped Miller.

"I would say it was not only an extraordinary day, it was an historic day," said Ron Ricks, Southwest's senior vice president of public affairs, who attended the council's meeting and vote.

For the first time, the leadership of both cities joined with the North Texas congressional delegation to say "that they believe it is possible to have a local resolution on the Wright Amendment," Ricks said. "I don't believe that's ever happened before."

The vote capped a day of continued posturing from Wright Amendment combatants.

The Fort Worth City Council voted Tuesday night to try and negotiate a settlement with Dallas by Aug. 1, which cut the time frame from the Oct. 1 deadline the cities' mayors initially proposed.

But Wednesday, North Texas Congressmen Sam Johnson and Jeb Hensarling -- both repeal proponents who criticized an October deadline earlier in the week, saying it virtually eliminated the chances of getting Congress to approve changes this year -- said Fort Worth's August deadline was still too far off.

"There's an October adjournment, and we have a limited number of days," Johnson, a Plano Republican, said in an interview. "If we wait until Aug. 1, the session's practically over."

Dallas council members chose June 14 rather than stick with Fort Worth's deadline, because the Dallas council goes on summer break from July 3 to Aug. 1.

Mike Moncrief, Fort Worth's mayor, said he wasn't concerned that the two cities came up with different deadlines.

"Although the timelines set forth in our resolutions are not identical, we all agree that producing a positive outcome sooner rather than later is what's best for our region," Moncrief said.

Tim Wagner, an American Airlines spokesman, declined to comment on the Dallas deadline.

He reiterated American's position that any discussions on the Wright Amendment should include the possibility of closing Love Field to commercial service.

Southwest on Tuesday had argued first for a 30-day deadline but said later in the day that June 1 was acceptable. Wednesday, Ricks said the cities were moving in the right direction, even with the differing deadlines.

The Wright Amendment, passed by Congress in 1979 to protect the then-new Dallas/Fort Worth Airport from competition at Love, restricts most commercial flights from Love to cities in Texas and several nearby states.

Its supporters, including the city of Fort Worth, say the law has turned D/FW into a major economic engine for the region and was a good deal that shouldn't be reneged on. The law's critics say it's outmoded and has pushed up airfares here by limiting competition.

Southwest has been pushing for repeal since November 2004. The cities have been pushed toward compromise by an increasing drumbeat in Congress, where Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., exempted his state from the Wright Amendment last year by attaching the measure to an appropriations bill.

The negotiations, to be led by the mayors, will focus on several topics including: a phaseout of the Wright Amendment; whether the law should be repealed; limiting growth at Love; whether to allow connecting and direct ticketing during the phaseout; and whether to put the region's major airports under the ownership of a central authority.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has been lobbying members of Congress to "stand down" on Wright Amendment legislation while Fort Worth and Dallas are negotiating. Hutchison announced a legislative truce last week, but it wobbled within days, when Hensarling and Johnson said they opposed an October deadline.

Wednesday, Johnson said in an interview, "Jeb Hensarling and I both agreed with the Dallas mayor that we would kind of lay low until the first of June. I don't think that anything's going to happen [in Congress] until then anyway." Wright Amendment debate has been stalled in the House and Senate.

The Fort Worth and Dallas councils offered contrasting styles in their resolution debates.

Tuesday, the Fort Worth council held its discussion behind closed doors in an executive session, and then talked about the matter for about a minute during its public council session before voting.

The Dallas council talked about the deadline date during an open session for more than 30 minutes Wednesday.

Reached by phone Wednesday, many Fort Worth council members continued to keep close to the vest many of the details from their closed-door session. Moncrief and other council members said simply that the Aug. 1 date was what they were most comfortable with.

Fort Worth Councilwoman Becky Haskin said she still considers the impending negotiating process a "mystery." She said Moncrief told the council in closed-door session that the two mayors would have to talk again after the councils passed their resolutions before knowing when meetings would be opened up to more people.

"It's very simple: They're just going to get back together and talk," Haskin said Wednesday. "It stays that general."

Miller told her council Wednesday that a road map for how to conduct the negotiations would become more clear as soon as everyone breaks up into small group meetings.

But she didn't say when those meetings would start, who they would include or what they would center on.

"Everybody will know exactly every step of the way where we are in the process," she said. "I don't want to get into those details here, but I just wanted to share with you that's going to occur."

Miller called Hutchison on Tuesday to ask about the importance of the June 1 date that Hensarling and Johnson tried to lay down, but Hutchison said the mayor should decide on her own timetable.

"I don't think it's that important," Hutchison said. "Progress has to be made. Having a deadline is good, and I expect the two members of the delegation to keep their word and not be pushing for something during this time. Whatever time that is it, I think they need to show good faith."

In an interview, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said she was dubious on the idea of a regional authority, which critics say would not solve the Wright Amendment issue by itself.

"Anything involving a regional airport authority would have to be 50-50 participation between the two cities," she said. "I wouldn't be interested in anything else. I haven't seen much movement on that."

She also said "I think there'll be a huge fight" to include Fort Worth's Alliance industrial airport in a regional authority.

Staff writer Trebor Banstetter contributed to this report.

Fort Worth Star Telegram

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