Lawmaker: Georgia GOP working to mend Delta rift over NRA,
Republicans competing to become Georgia’s next governor united Tuesday behind a charge to punish Delta Air Lines for cutting business ties with the National Rifle Association, while the state’s term-limited GOP governor and others refrained from commenting publicly as officials worked behind the scenes to resolve the feud.
Fallout from the deadly Valentine’s Day school shooting in Florida engulfed Georgia politics Monday when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a leading GOP gubernatorial contender, said he wants to block renewal of a major tax break for Delta after the Atlanta-based airline announced it will no longer offer discounted rates for NRA members flying to the group’s conventions.
Four of Cagle’s Republican rivals in the 2018 race for governor said they also support halting the $38 million-per-year sales tax exemption on jet fuel that would primarily benefit Delta. One GOP candidate, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, suggested using that money instead for a “sales tax holiday” for Georgians to buy guns and ammunition tax-free.
The Republican chairman of a Senate committee that approved the tax break last week said officials at the statehouse were working Tuesday to resolve the rift between GOP lawmakers and Delta. Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome said lawmakers felt Delta unfairly singled out the NRA while maintaining special agreements with “many other controversial organizations.”
“There’s work ongoing to try to fix this disagreement,” Hufstetler said. “… I think this additional issue where they were treating (the NRA) different from all the other organizations pushed a lot of the members over the edge.”
Gov. Nathan Deal, who has sometimes clashed with social conservatives in his own party on issues he feared could tarnish Georgia’s business-friendly reputation, had no immediate comment on the Delta dispute Tuesday, spokeswoman Jen Ryan said. House Speaker David Ralston, another powerful Republican, also was quiet.
Republicans who have lined up against Delta have demonstrated once again the powerful support for gun rights in Georgia. In recent years, the GOP-controlled legislature has greatly expanded the rights of licensed gun owners to bring their weapons to bars, schools, college campuses and even some government buildings.
Still, the ire directed publicly at Delta seems politically extraordinary. In his tweet Monday vowing to kill any tax break benefiting Delta, Cagle said: “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”
Delta is one of Georgia’s largest private employers, with 33,000 workers statewide, and its busy Atlanta hub has made Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport the busiest in the world.
Although Cagle’s blunt threat to kill the tax cut may win fans among GOP voters, it could also backfire when it comes to recruiting business — most notably Georgia’s status as a finalist for Amazon’s planned second U.S. headquarters, said William Hatcher, an Augusta University professor who studies economic development.
“It’s not good economic policy to threaten one of the largest employers in your state,” Hatcher said. “You see the political logic in trying to fire up the base. But it’s also risky.”
“It’s not good economic policy to threaten one of the largest employers in your state.”
– WILLIAM HATCHER, AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR