Days after Delta Air Lines announced it would stop offering discounted fares to National Rifle Association members, a top Georgia Republican retaliated by vowing to kill state legislation that would hand the airline a lucrative tax break.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who leads the Georgia State Senate, demanded Monday that Atlanta-based Delta, one of the state’s largest employers, make a choice: Reverse its NRA decision, or watch Republican lawmakers strike down a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel, of which Delta would be the primary beneficiary.
“I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA,” Cagle tweeted. “Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”
Cagle, who has served as Georgia’s lieutenant governor since 2007, could weave the issue into his campaign in Georgia’s upcoming gubernatorial race, in which he is considered the leading GOP contender to replace Gov. Nathan Deal (R).
Delta has not commented on the threat from Cagle, who says he is “a lifelong member of the NRA” and boasts that he has earned an A+ rating from the organization every year he has served in elected office. The gun-rights group has also endorsed Cagle in the past.
Delta recently joined United Airlines, Best Western, MetLife and at least a dozen other companies in cutting discounts and perks for NRA members amid the national gun-control debate after the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Advocates of the #BoycottNRA movement are now determined to convince tech giants such as Apple, Google, Roku and Amazon to stop streaming NRA-produced videos, though none have announced plans to do so. (Amazon’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
The NRA has lashed out at the boycott movement, saying that the companies that dropped the discounts were participating in “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.” But the group also downplayed the importance of the company actions.
“Let it be absolutely clear,” a weekend statement from the NRA said. “The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.”
Political leaders in some blue states have begun competing for Delta’s favor by encouraging the airline to relocate its hub from Atlanta.
“Hey @delta — Virginia is for lovers and airline hubs. You’re welcome here any time,” tweeted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul noted that New York “is open for business” and suggested that the airline should move its headquarters to “where you’re appreciated.”
The lieutenant governor of Washington, Cyrus Habib, thanked Delta for cutting ties with the NRA and said his state would be a lovely place to do business.
The embrace of Delta by leading Democrats was similar to how Republican leaders around the country embraced the NRA after a prominent Dallas politician said he didn’t want the group holding its annual convention there in May. At the time, officials in Kansas and Nebraska invited the NRA to host the spectacle of “more than 20 acres” of firearms exhibits in their states instead.
Delta at first resisted taking a stance, as companies with even the slightest affiliation to the NRA were called out and a list of companies that had cut ties with the NRA began circulating on Twitter. But, as The Washington Post reported, Delta held out against the pressure for only a few hours.
A spokesman at first defended Delta’s flight discounts to the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas in May as routine for large groups. The airline has more than 2,000 such contracts in place,” a spokesman told the liberal outlet ThinkProgress on Friday night.
Come Saturday morning, though, Delta abruptly discontinued the discounts and asked the NRA to remove the information about the perk from the convention website.
United Airlines released a nearly identical statement two hours later.
Although Delta ended its alliance with the NRA, the company said its position on the gun-control debate remains neutral. “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 in a statement Saturday.
Cagle soon issued a statement of his own, saying that “discriminating against law-abiding gun owners will not solve the problem.”
The statement didn’t mention Delta specifically but called on “corporate America” to “donate a portion of its profits to mental health treatments and school safety initiatives. They should put their money where their mouth is instead of engaging in viewpoint discrimination against conservatives and law-abiding gun owners.”
But on Monday, Cagle set his sights on Delta, which says it’s Georgia’s No. 1 private employer, with 33,000 employees across the state.
Many conservatives cheered Cagle’s threat. But Walter Shaub, the former director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, slammed the Georgia lawmaker on Twitter, writing: “So you’ve decided you represent an association headquartered just outside Washington DC instead of the people of Georgia, including those who work for Delta? At least you’re honest about the fact that you don’t care about your job or your people.”
It’s unusual for the Georgia’s Republican leaders to oppose tax breaks for a major corporation — especially when that tax break could provide an economic boost, said Chuck Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
“There was some debate over the tax break,” he said. “But the justification was that it would bring more jobs to the state. That’s what you usually hear from Republicans.”
Bullock said Cagle’s remarks may have been made with the upcoming gubernatorial primary in mind, as his bold show of commitment to the Second Amendment will likely play well with core Republican voters.
But he also said it’s likely that Republican state leaders’ threats aren’t empty ones. He wouldn’t be surprised if the bill, which was easily approved in the House on Thursday, fails in the Senate, he said.
“It’s not like [Delta] can pack up and move somewhere else. This is their major hub,” he said. “But what might be a bigger concern is that other corporations view this negatively. Ones that aren’t already anchored in Atlanta.”
Other Georgia Republicans have joined Cagle. State Sen. Rick Jaffares (R) promised to lead the charge to kill the bill “to let Delta know their attack on the NRA and our 2nd Amendment is unacceptable.”
Another conservative state senator, Michael Williams, said the “vast majority” of Republicans in the Senate want to reject the proposed tax break. “When Delta came out and pretty much dumped on all the NRA members, it invigorated a lot of our base,” Williams said, according to the Associated Press. “We’re going to fight.”
Until Delta’s announcement, the bill seemed to have wide support, as advocates say it would attract flights to Atlanta as opposed to other major airports, where jet fuel taxes are not charged.
During an earnings call last month, Delta officials said the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 allowed the company to take a one-time charge of $150 million in the fourth quarter because of the new inclusion of foreign earnings and the reevaluation of deferred tax assets. In 2018, the company expects a reduced corporate tax rate will result in an all-in book tax rate of 22 percent to 24 percent.
But the company expects to pay taxes in 2019 and 2020 — which is when Georgia’s proposed tax bill would be especially beneficial, particularly in helping fund pensions, Delta officials said.
This post has been updated.