Georgia lawmakers passed the tax bill, which cuts $5.7 billion in personal and business income tax, overwhelmingly 44-10 on March 1. (Photo: Casey Cagle/Twitter)
Georgia lawmakers excluded Delta — the state’s largest private employer — from a tax bill that passed Thursday because the airline cut business ties to the National Rifle Association.
In the bill, Delta would have received a $50 million tax exemption on jet fuel, but pro-gun Republicans opted to kill the measure because the company said it would no longer offer discounts to NRA members in the wake of Florida’s school shooting.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Republican, had warned Delta if it did not reverse its decision and reinstate the discount that he would kill the tax break that would effectively eliminate the tax on jet fuel entirely. The state senate voted to remove the measure after the bill advanced in the state house.
“Delta has taken action to be very punitive against a principled position that we as Second Amendment defenders take,” Cagle said on Fox News on Wednesday, adding “we have to govern based on principle.”
Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican who the NRA endorsed in 2014, told reporters Wednesday he would sign the bill but was critical of election-year “antics” by lawmakers for singling out Delta.
“We were not elected to give the late-night talk show hosts fodder for their monologues or to act with the type of immaturity that has caused so many in our society to have a cynical view of politics,” Deal said.
In a press release, Deal explained that the move to punish Delta conflicts with Georgia’s business friendly environment and may discourage other businesses from moving there. Delta has a major hub at the Atlanta airport, one of the busiest in the world, and is a key driver of the airport’s economy.
Despite potential negative economic consequences, Cagle said “families do get into squabbles.” Delta joined about two dozen other brands to end partnerships with the NRA after a national force led by students and victims of the Florida shooting decried the gun lobby for its stance on gun control. Yet, the airline said it opted for a “neutral stance” in the debate.
However, Cagle argued if Delta chose to end all discounts instead of those offered to NRA members (for trips to the organization’s annual conference), the company would have been fair. “But instead they chose to single out the NRA and their membership — law abiding gun owners — and I don’t think that’s right,” Cagle said. “I have to govern based on principles.”
After it passed, Cagle characterized the bill as “a historic victory for our citizens” due to its $5.7 billion tax cut to businesses and taxpayers in the state. Fellow Republican House Speaker David Ralston addressed the Delta exemption specifically. “I hope they are better at flying airplanes than timing P.R. announcements,” he told reporters.
Democrats in the Georgia legislature, who voted against the tax bill, lauded Delta’s stand against the gun rights member organization while Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, invited the carrier to relocate their headquarters to their respective states.
Staff writer Chris Eger contributed to the reporting of this story