Georgia’s Republican-controlled House on Wednesday voted to revoke a major tax break for Delta Air Lines as punishment for its CEO’s public criticism of the state’s controversial new law clamping down on ballot access.
The state Senate did not take up the measure before lawmakers adjourned for the year, rendering it dead for this year — but the threat underscores the potential political backlash corporations could face for opposing efforts to restrict voting.
Voting rights activists are lobbying major companies to take a stand against elections bills under consideration in key political battlegrounds, where Republicans are moving to erect new barriers to voting after record turnout in 2020 helped Democrats win the White House and the majority in the US Senate.
Many Republicans advancing these bills have cited former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud to tighten rules around voting. Lawmakers in 47 states have introduced 361 bills that include voting restrictions as of March 24, according to an updated tally released Thursday by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice.
Lawmakers in Texas, Georgia and Arizona have introduced the most restrictions, according to the center’s count.
Jet-fuel tax break at risk
Wednesday’s action by the Georgia House, on the final day of the state’s legislative session, sought to revoke the company’s jet-fuel tax break and came amid an intense faceoff between Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian and Georgia’s Republican political leadership.
Earlier Wednesday, Bastian issued a memo to employees blasting the state’s new election law, which imposes new voter ID requirements on absentee balloting, limits drop boxes and makes it a crime to give food and water to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots.
“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Bastian wrote. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”
Late Wednesday, the Georgia House added a provision to a tax bill to start collecting levies on jet fuel July 1.
The bill did not mention the voting controversy. But Georgia Republicans had made clear their displeasure with Bastian and other corporate leaders who had criticized the election overhaul.
“They like our public policy when we’re doing things that benefit them,” Georgia’s Republican House Speaker David Ralston said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand.”
Delta officials did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment Thursday morning. In an interview on CBS “This Morning,” Bastian said he wasn’t going to respond to the threat from the Georgia lawmakers and continued to condemn the law.
“This is something that’s more than money,” he said. “This is about protecting the voices of our people.”
Republicans control both chambers of the Georgia Assembly.
Georgia lawmakers have targeted the multimillion-dollar tax break on jet fuel before as political retribution. In 2018, state lawmakers killed the tax cut after Delta ended a discount for members of the National Rifle Association — earning the ire of the assembly’s Republicans.
Several months later, then-Gov. Nathan Deal suspended collecting the tax.