ATLANTA - Georgia's lieutenant governor on Monday threatened to prevent Delta Air Lines from getting a lucrative tax cut after the company ended its discount program with the National Rifle Association, in the latest fallout from a deadly school shooting in Florida.
Delta is part of a growing chorus of businesses cutting ties with the NRA after the Valentine's Day shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead. But now the airline is coming under attack, with Georgia's lieutenant governor threatening a sales tax exemption making its way through the legislature.
Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, president of the state Senate and a leading candidate to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, tweeted that he would use his position to sink the proposed sales tax exemption on jet fuel.
"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."
"I'm tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values and it's time that we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important," said Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle Monday afternoon.
Cagle's comments come as Delta, one of Georgia's largest employers, appeared close to convincing lawmakers to restore a $50 million sales tax exemption on jet fuel. Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta would be the prime beneficiary of the tax cut.
The proposed exemption had been part of Deal's larger tax overhaul, which has passed the House and awaits Senate input.
As the powerful leader of the Senate and one of the top contenders for the governor's office, Cagle would wield considerable power over the future of the jet fuel sales tax exemption in the Senate.
Cagle was not alone in his push to punish the airline, and the issue appeared poised to become part of the upcoming gubernatorial race in the gun-friendly state.
Sen. Michael Williams, another Republican candidate for governor who had opposed the Delta tax cut before the NRA controversy, praised Cagle's statement, saying his political rival "is feeling the pressure that we are putting on him." He applauded Cagle for listening to what he says is the "vast majority" of Republican senators who now want to quash the proposed jet fuel tax cut.
"When Delta came out and pretty much dumped on all the NRA members, it invigorated a lot of our base," Williams said. "We're going to fight."
A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives at Delta and the NRA did not respond to requests for comment Monday evening.
Monday afternoon, a Democratic candidate for Governor criticized Cagle.
A spokesperson for the Stacey Abrams for Governor Campaign said in a statement, "If you needed any further proof that Republican leaders are in the pocket of the gun lobby, here it is. Casey Cagle would sacrifice thousands of jobs, endanger our state's economy, and stick a finger in the eye of a huge employer in our state just to satisfy his buddies at the NRA. Real leadership is working to make sure no child has to suffer through a tragedy like Parkland again--not propping up the gun lobby at the cost of working families of Georgia.”
Another Democrat, Senator Steve Hanson, said Republican leaders had been arguing that the tax cuts were good for business and now were changing their tune.
"Republican fear of the NRA is evidently more important than the Georgia business climate, jobs, or the well-being of Georgia citizens," Henson said.
Also criticizing Cagle was the ACLU of Georgia.
A tax bill that was on the fast track to passage has hit a snag at the State Capitol and it is all due to Delta's decision to part ways with the National Rifle Association.
Over the weekend, Delta announced it would no longer offer discounts to NRA members traveling to the association's 2018 annual meeting.
"Delta’s decision reflects the airline’s neutral status in the current national debate over gun control amid recent school shootings. 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 company said in a statement on its website.
In the meantime Republican leadership in the Senate must decide how to proceed.
"The issue is when you take a company and single them out. There's a lot of controversial companies that Delta gives a discount to. If you take a company and single them out, then I think that's wrong on their part," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, who is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
"We're looking at a lot of things right now and I'm one of 56 in the Senate. We're coming to a consensus on the path forward and that's what we'll do."
The issue has permeated the 2018 Governor's race. Two of the candidates running against Lt. Governor Cagle in the Republican primary said they do not support the Delta tax credit, NRA controversy or not.
"The fact that a large corporation here in this state can say the citizens of Georgia are not going to get their full tax rebate because they want their own tax credit, that is a shame," said State Senator Michael Williams, R- Cumming on the Senate floor.
Clay Tippins, a former Navy SEAL and private businessman, said he does not support the government giving one company an edge over any other.
"We need to have a great pro-business environment here in Georgia, but it needs to be equal for all businesses--big, small. It can't be that companies that don't have a lobbyist, can't afford a lobbyist to come down here get a different outcome than businesses that do," said Tippins.
Senate leadership would not say what timeline, if any, they may have for making a decision on the Delta tax bill.
In a statement, Andrea Young, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia, said, "Politicians should not use taxpayer dollars to impose ideological litmus tests and punish organizations that express views that politicians dislike. Amazon should take note.”
More than a dozen companies, including Metlife, Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Best Western, Wyndham and United Airlines have ended NRA partnerships since the school shooting. Police say the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, gunned down students with an AR-15 assault-style rifle.
On Saturday, both Delta and United said they will no longer offer discounted fares to NRA members to attend their annual meetings, and both have asked the gun rights group to remove any references to their companies from the NRA website. One of the school shooting survivors also suggested Saturday on Twitter that tourists stay away from Florida.