- Republicans in the Georgia Senate blocked a bill on Monday that would have given Delta Airlines a major tax break.
- The block stemmed from the airline's decision to end a partnership with the National Rifle Association.
- The decision has opened up a fault line in the state between Republicans attempting to prove conservative credentials by attacking Delta and pro-business Republicans who think the break will help grow the economy.
Republicans in Georgia have become entrenched in a ideological intraparty battle, debating over free market ideals and gun rights with Delta Airlines and the National Rifle Association in the middle.
It has come as Delta dropped a discount program for the NRA and seen their tax benefits in the state come into question. Republicans have been left to decide whether to back the long-standing conservative ideal of easing the tax burden on businesses or appearing stronger on gun rights. The debate has become inextricably linked to the state's upcoming midterm elections.
Last weekend, Delta scrapped a program for NRA members that provided discounted flights to members who planned to travel to Atlanta for one of the gun group's major conferences.
Delta attempted to paint the move as an apolitical one and an attempt to stay above the fray in the gun debate, which has been reignited after this month's shooting at a high school in Florida.
"Delta's decision reflects the airline's neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings," Delta's statement said.
But several Republicans said in response they would not back a provision in a larger tax bill that would give Delta a significant tax break — it would exempt from state sales taxes some jet fuel purchased at the Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson Airport. Though the break would benefit several airlines, an estimated $40 million of the $50 million in savings would go to Atlanta-based Delta.
The Republican push reached a fever pitch when Lt. Gov. Chris Cagle, a candidate for governor in the upcoming GOP primary, said he would block a broader tax bill that included the measure.
"I’m tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values," Cagle said Monday. "It’s time we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important, not just to Georgia but to the entire nation."
Other GOP primary candidates also blasted Delta's move, attempting to solidify their conservative credentials before the May 22 vote.
The pro-business faction fights back
On the other side of the argument is the more establishment-minded GOP's desire for lower taxes on businesses, particularly the state's largest employer.
While current Gov. Nathan Deal has so far been mum on the fight, he previously touted the jet fuel exemption as a way to keep the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport competitive and drive business growth for airlines there.
"Georgia and our businesses are global competitors; we need direct air travel to provide our companies with immediate access worldwide," Deal said in a statement on February 6. "By removing the sales tax on jet fuel, we can level the playing field for our airports and airlines to compete."
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Deal attempted to assuage the concerns of conservative Georgia Senate members on Monday, but was unsuccessful.
Even some Democrats blasted statements from Cagle and others, saying it shows Republicans prioritize the NRA over Georgia's economy. Priyanka Mantha, a spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, said it proved Cagle was "in the pocket of the gun lobby."
"@CaseyCagle would sacrifice thousands of jobs, endanger our state's economy, & stick a finger in the eye of a huge employer in our state just to satisfy his buddies at the NRA," Mantha tweeted.