ATLANTA - Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a new tax bill into law Friday that fellow Republicans changed to punish Atlanta-based company Delta Airlines for dropping a special deal they offered to members of the National Rifle Association.
The bill, which focused on allowing tax breaks for corporations bringing the state in line with the new federal tax code, would have allowed a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel. However, following the shooting a high school in Parkland, Florida which claimed 17 lives, Delta decided to drop ties with the organization which led to an angry backlash from prominent Georgia Republicans.
"I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA," Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle tweeted early this week following Delta’s announcement. "Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back."
"I'm tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values and it's time that we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important," Cagle said Monday afternoon.
Wednesday, Gov. Deal placed some blame on the pressures of Cagle’s gubernatorial run.
"Sometimes you get caught up in the heat of the moment and the context of a political campaign and people are urging you to take positions and say things that if you really had thought about them a little longer you might not have said and you might not have done,” Deal said.
Delta released an internal memo Friday sent by CEO Ed Bastian to employees discussing the company's stance and reaffirming its commitment to Atlanta which reads in part:
“I have heard from many of you over the last few days. Our people and our customers have a wide range of views on how to increase safety in our schools and public places, and we are not taking sides. Our objective in removing any implied affiliation with the NRA was to remove Delta from this debate.
“While Delta’s intent was to remain neutral, some elected officials in Georgia tied our decision to a pending jet fuel tax exemption, threatening to eliminate it unless we reversed course. Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale. We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.
“None of this changes the fact that our home is Atlanta and we are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here. And we are supporters of the 2nd Amendment, just as we embrace the entire Constitution of the United States.
“I have tremendous respect and admiration for Governor Nathan Deal, and thank him for the work he has done on the jet fuel tax exemption. He is a great friend to Delta. I know this action by the state legislature troubled him as it does all of us.”
Gov. Deal said he signed the bill even after the Delta cuts were removed because he believed it made fiscal sense for the state. The bill includes $5 billion in tax cuts for Georgians. The governor said he will look for another way to get the airline the tax cuts.
The tax exemption for airline fuel was taken off the books in 2015. Reinstating it would save the company an estimated $38 million annually.