When Delta Air Lines announced plans one week ago to sever ties with the National Rifle Association following the Florida school shooting, Georgia lawmakers within days approved a bill that effectively killed a lucrative, $38 million tax break for the airline.
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Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a pro-gun Georgia politician who’s boasted in the past about the A+ rating he receives from the NRA every year since serving in elected office, led the charge to strip an overarching tax bill of the jet fuel exemption for Delta, which is headquartered in Atlanta.
“They had a choice to make. I’m not telling them that they can’t make that choice,” Cagle told FOX Business’ Neil Cavuto on Saturday. “I’m just saying that, obviously, if Delta wanted to weigh in, after they already negotiated the benefit for the convention of NRA, which they did, after a national boycott, I find that wrong. Because that flies in the face of conservative values that we believe in.”
Cagle, who is one of the top contenders to replace Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in the April gubernatorial election, wrote on Twitter that he would kill any tax legislation benefiting Delta unless the company reversed its position and reinstated its relationship with the NRA.
Delta officials countered that the company would not be strong-armed by politicians, remaining steadfast in their decision to rescind a one-time group travel discount for NRA members.
The U.S. air carrier was one of the many companies to end its discount for NRA members after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, during which the suspected 19-year-old shooter Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people with an AR-15 style rifle. In the aftermath, the NRA forcefully spoke out against renewed calls for gun control.
“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,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a statement on Friday. “Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.”
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In the midst of the feud, other states, including New York, Virginia, Ohio and Alabama began courting Delta, which is one of Georgia’s largest private employers, to reconsider its headquarters location. Delta, however, announced that it will maintain its primary headquarters in Atlanta.
Critics have warned that by penalizing the company for not embracing the NRA, Cagle -- and the Georgia legislature -- could spark an exodus by corporations similar to what happened when the North Carolina state government passed a bill limiting which bathrooms transgender people could use. (The bill was later repealed).
But Cagle dismissed those fears, touting Georgia’s presence as a low-tax state with affordable living costs and an available workforce.
“I think you would agree that capitalism is less about social policy and more about fiscal policy,” he said. “And I think the fiscal policy for Delta is very strong in our state.”