The decision by Delta Air Lines, Inc. to cut co-branding ties with the National Rifle Association has endangered the company's efforts to steer legislation through the Georgia General Assembly that exempts jet fuel from the state's sales tax.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported that the tax-credit was in jeopardy after Delta, which is headquartered in Atlanta, announced on Saturday that it would end its co-marketing partnership with the NRA. Delta's decision came after facing outside pressure from gun-control advocates who blame the Second Amendment group for the tragic school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida earlier this month. Similar decisions were announced by an array of companies like Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and MetLife, Inc., one of the country's largest insurance providers.
Delta's decision comes at a particularly tumultuous time in Georgia politics. This year, the retirement of Gov. Nathan Deal (R., Ga.) has sparked a political free-for-all amongst candidates vying for the state's constitutional offices.
Former Georgia state Senator Rick Jeffares, a Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, was one of the first to rebuke Delta on Twitter for its decision to cut ties with the NRA. He noted the irony in the organization's willingness to abandon "hard-earned dollars" while asking for a $40 million tax break from Georgia taxpayers.
"If Delta is so flush that they don't need NRA members hard-earned dollars, they can certainly do without the $40 million tax break they are asking GA taxpayers for," Jeffares wrote.
If Delta is so flush that they don't need NRA members hard-earned dollars, they can certainly do without the $40 million tax break they are asking GA taxpayers for.
— Rick Jeffares (@RickJeffaresGA) February 24, 2018
State Senator Michael Williams, a candidate for governor who bills himself as the first Republican elected official in Georgia to endorse Donald Trump's campaign for the presidency in 2016, took to Twitter on Monday to say that he stalled the tax credit from passing on Friday.
Thankfully, I stalled the Senate vote on this Friday as @CaseyCagle tried to rush it through. Will this latest slap in the face of conservatives & @NRA members be the straw that broke the camels back? #gapol #NRA https://t.co/mb5szyxqu7
— Michael Williams (@williamsforga) February 26, 2018
Also on Monday, the Republican speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, Rep. David Ralston, said he was troubled by Delta's "decision to engage in a sensitive debate by vilifying law-abiding supporters" of the gun-rights group. The speaker also expressed his consternation at Delta for not going "public" with the decision to end its partnership with the NRA until after the tax-credit had passed his chamber.
Another sign the @Delta tax break in Georgia could be in trouble: House Speaker David Ralston is "troubled" by airline’s NRA decision and suggests the Senare could strip the provision #gapol pic.twitter.com/PVt53LtKvB
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— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) February 26, 2018
In a released statement, Delta stated the decision to cease offering discounted fairs to NRA members traveling to the organization's annual meeting arose from a desire to remain "neutral" and refrain from entering the gun control debate. The company also stated it supported the Second Amendment.
"Delta’s decision reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings. Out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides, Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business. Delta continues to support the 2nd Amendment," the airline said.
Delta is reaching out to the NRA to let them know we will be ending their contract for discounted rates through our group travel program. We will be requesting that the NRA remove our information from their website.
— Delta (@Delta) February 24, 2018
Originally implemented in the mid-2000s, the jet fuel exemption was lambasted for years as a "give-a-way to special interests" and was officially eliminated during the 2015 legislative session. Since that time, Delta has argued for it's re-implementation, saying the sales tax rate prevented the company from being able to compete with its regional competitors. In addition to being headquartered in Atlanta, Delta also maintains its largest hub at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Estimates say the tax credit could save Delta and other airlines nearly $40 million annually. The legislation failed to make headway until Delta hired a former aide to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R.) as its top lobbyist for the issue.