Pro-gun Georgia lawmakers punish Delta for crossing NRA

Ben Nadler and R.j. Rico
Associated Press

Atlanta – Pro-gun Georgia lawmakers Thursday took revenge on Delta for crossing the National Rifle Association, killing a proposed tax break on jet fuel that would have saved the airline millions.

A sweeping tax bill with the fuel exemption stripped out by the Republicans passed the GOP-controlled House and Senate by wide margins, just days after Delta reacted to the school massacre in Florida by announcing it would no longer offer discount fares to NRA members.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal criticized the Delta controversy as an “unbecoming squabble” but said he would sign the broader tax measure in whatever form it passed.

Delta, which is based in Atlanta and has 33,000 employees in Georgia, would have been the prime beneficiary of the tax break, estimated to be worth at least $38 million a year to airlines.

The political battle at the Georgia Capitol was the latest in the debate over gun control and school safety that flared after the Feb. 14 shooting rampage in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and educators dead.

Delta did not immediately return messages seeking comment. NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen had no immediate comment.

The state Senate’s presiding officer, Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, set up the showdown between gun-rights supporters and one of Georgia’s biggest private employers when he vowed Monday to stop any tax break that would benefit Delta.

“Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back,” he tweeted.

The dispute stirred fears of damage to Georgia’s business-friendly reputation, and politicians in several other states seized on the furor in recent days, urging Delta to move its headquarters.

“Hey @delta – Virginia is for lovers and airline hubs. You’re welcome here any time,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, tweeted.

The Delta provision barely came up Thursday in either legislative chamber during debate on the underlying tax bill, designed in part to give back to Georgia taxpayers $5.2 billion in extra state revenue expected over the next five years because of the recent federal tax overhaul.

Cagle took a softer tone in celebrating victory Thursday.

“Obviously the political environment does sometimes get a little testy, but in the end, it’s all about the product,” said Cagle, who is running this year to succeed the governor.

The Senate passed the tax measure 44-10, with Democrats accounting for all of the no votes. The House followed with a 135-24 vote.