Lawmakers in the Georgia Senate moved toward a vote Thursday on a sweeping tax bill that Republicans stripped of a proposed jet-fuel tax break after Delta Air Lines cut business ties with the National Rifle Association.
The Senate’s presiding officer is GOP Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who vowed Monday to stop any tax break that would benefit Atlanta-based Delta. Controversy engulfed the state Capitol as gun-rights supporters faced off against one of Georgia’s largest private employers.
Even as Republican Gov. Nathan Deal criticized the “unbecoming squabble” Wednesday and sought to minimize damage to Georgia’s business-friendly reputation, the GOP-dominated Senate Rules Committee chopped a provision to lift the state sales tax on jet fuel from the broader tax bill. Atlanta-based Delta would have been the main beneficiary.
It appeared Cagle’s threat to squash the jet fuel perk would carry in the full Senate. The chamber took up the full tax bill Thursday with a 34-15 vote to prohibit amendments, blocking any efforts to restore the Delta tax break. No Republicans opposed the parliamentary move.
Gov. Deal, serving his last year in office, said he plans to sign the broader tax bill, even if it’s without the airline tax break he had pushed for. Deal said he will pursue exempting jet fuel from sales taxes separately.
Delta’s decision to stop offering NRA members discounted fares was announced in the wake of the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida high school. The airline employs 33,000 workers in Georgia. Its busy Atlanta hub has made Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the busiest in the world.
The broader tax bill was intended to return to Georgia taxpayers an estimated $5.2 billion in additional revenues the state would otherwise expect over the next five years because of the recent federal changes passed by Congress.
Deal has said the tax bill “represents one of the single largest income tax reforms in the history of our state.” It would cut the top income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 to 5.75 percent in 2019, with the option for legislators to further cut it to 5.5 percent in 2020. It also doubles the standard deduction for all filers.
The tax bill passed the state House, before the Delta-NRA controversy erupted, with the jet fuel exemption intact. That means the House and Senate would have to agree on a final version for the measure to become law.