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Delta Nearly Loses Tax Benefit in Georgia Over Elections Law Retribution

Madhu Unnikrishnan
April 1st, 2021 at 2:56 PM EDT

It didn’t take long for Delta Air Lines to feel the heat — again. The airline almost lost a $35 million jet fuel tax benefit after Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly sought to punish the Atlanta-based company for speaking out against the state’s controversial new elections law.

The state House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly approved an amendment that would have ended the exemption on jet fuel sales from the state’s 4 percent tax. The Assembly adjourned Wednesday evening before the state Senate could vote on the measure, effectively giving the airline a months-long reprieve while the legislature is in recess.

Republican State House Speaker Dave Ralston, however, vowed to press the issue, telling reporters that Delta shouldn’t “bite the hand” that feeds it, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported.

Republicans were furious with Delta CEO Ed Bastian for forcefully condemning the new law, which voting rights activists say hinders minority access to the polls, among other suppressive measures. Bastian called the new law “unacceptable” and “wrong.”

But he came out against the law after Delta itself faced intense blowback and boycott threats for an initial statement that critics said was tepid. Then, Bastian defended the company’s first response by saying Delta worked with legislators to remove some of the more “egregious” measures in the first bill.

Bastian’s criticism of the law drew fire from Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, who said Bastian was “spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

This is not the first time Republicans have retaliated against Delta with jet fuel taxes over a controversial stand the airline took. In 2018, Assembly Republicans stripped the exemption after Delta cancelled its group discounts for National Rifle Association (NRA) members in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal, also a Republican, later reinstated the exemption through executive order, and the legislature restored it permanently in 2019.

Bastian is not alone in his public opposition to the law. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola also called the law “unacceptable,” bowing to pressure after facing boycotts for its earlier silence. Apple and Wells Fargo, although not based in Georgia, are among the companies that in recent days also have criticized the law.

Republicans in Georgia, upset that the state voted in November to elect President Joseph Biden and Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, all Democrats, and responding to former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that his defeat in November was due to widespread fraud, rushed through a bill that many say restricts minority access to the polls. Kemp signed the bill into law last week. Biden called the law “sick” and “un-American,” and voting rights activist Stacy Abrams characterized it as “Jim Crow in a suit and tie.”

UPDATE: American Airlines took a different tack. Within hours of the Texas legislature passing an elections bill on Thursday, the airline condemned the bill forcefully. “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” the airline said in a statement. “. Any legislation dealing with how elections are conducted must ensure ballot integrity and security while making it easier to vote, not harder.” 

Madhu Unnikrishnan
April 1st, 2021 at 2:56 PM EDT

Photo credit:  Flickr / blackqualis

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