Georgia's Lieutenant Governor Threatens Delta After Airline Cuts Ties With NRA

Feb 27, 2018
Originally published on February 28, 2018 8:28 am

After Atlanta-based Delta eliminated a discount program for NRA members, Georgia's lieutenant governor has threatened to fight a tax break for the airline. NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler.

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Georgia's lieutenant governor is threatening to block a tax break for Delta Air Lines. Delta announced over the weekend that it is ending a discount program for NRA members. It joined a list of businesses that cut ties with the group after this month's school shooting in Parkland, Fla. The Atlanta-based airline is the state's biggest private employer. And joining us now to explain this standoff is Stephen Fowler from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Hi, Stephen.


CHANG: So can you just first get us up to speed here? What is this tax break that Delta wants?

FOWLER: So last week, the Georgia state House passed a sweeping tax bill that would overhaul the state's income taxes and make Georgians pay less income tax thanks to the recent federal tax bill.


FOWLER: One of the things that they stuck in there was a jet fuel tax break for Delta and other airlines in the state. And what it would do is it would allow Delta to pay less for fuel taxes. And Republican Governor Nathan Deal hoped that that would bring more flights into Atlanta and more businesses into Atlanta and overall be better for the state. And that passed with little drama and little fanfare in the House until Delta decided to cut ties with the NRA. Many Republican lawmakers objected to Delta's treatment of the NRA. And Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who's a Republican, said I will kill any tax legislation that benefits Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with the NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.

CHANG: I will kill any tax break. I mean, this particular tax cut has come up before, right? It's been used to apply pressure on Delta Air Lines in other instances.

FOWLER: So Delta actually lost that tax break in 2015 after it came out against a bill that some people said would discriminate against same-sex couples in Georgia. The last straw was when Delta's CEO at the time suggested that Georgia needed to do more and raise its taxes to help fund transportation initiatives. Delta was doing OK financially at the time, so state lawmakers had zero hesitation pulling the plug on that tax break.

CHANG: If Delta were to lose this tax break, how much money would it lose?

FOWLER: So Delta would only gain about $40 million in this tax break. And to put that in context, Delta just shared $1.1 billion with employees in profit-sharing a few weeks ago. So Delta wouldn't really miss that money.

CHANG: Right. It doesn't sound like proportionally it's a ton of money. This fight is really not about money, ultimately.

FOWLER: You know, you're right, Ailsa. It's not about the money. It's about the national conversation surrounding gun control, Delta not wanting to be a part of that conversation but ultimately not having a choice. And it's also a part of the conversation about Georgia politics. Georgia is electing a new governor in November, and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle is a candidate running for governor, so this has quickly become a campaign issue.

CHANG: So as this issue is getting more and more national reaction, what's the potential fallout? I mean, the fallout for Georgia because I assume it's a state that wants to continue looking like a place where companies can do business.

FOWLER: Well, Georgia is electing a new governor in November, and many people are watching. Voters are watching. Other candidates are watching to see what people are saying. And businesses may be watching. Atlanta is a finalist for the new Amazon headquarters, and it could be that Amazon picks somewhere else to go. But Delta is a longtime, homegrown company. And the perception may be the state might not be as welcoming as advertised, and Amazon may look elsewhere.

CHANG: That's Stephen Fowler from Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.