A worker sprays a de-icing solution on a Delta Air Lines jet in this February file photo. RYON HORNE/RHORNE@AJC.COM

The Jolt: Opposition to airport takeover could cost Delta a tax break

We’re picking up word that legislation to give the state oversight over Atlanta’s airport could get smushed together with a separate bill to exempt Delta Air Lines and other carriers from paying state taxes on jet fuel. 

That could put Delta in an unenviable position of backing the airport takeover measure -- which the airline has staunchly opposed -- or scuttling a tax break it has long sought.

Earlier this month, the House overwhelmingly approved the fuel tax exemption, worth tens of millions of dollars annually to Delta. Gov. Brian Kemp has backed House Bill 447.

Similar legislation won the chamber's approval last year, but died in the Senate after Delta, in the wake of a massacre at a Parkland, Fla., high school, ran afoul of the National Rifle Association.

In public, Delta held its tongue as SB 131, the airport takeover bill authored by state Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, passed the Senate on Crossover Day. But behind the scenes, the airline has expressed strong opposition.

SB 131 has been directed to the House Rules Committee, an indication that Speaker David Ralston intends to keep it under tight control.

Despite an ongoing corruption investigation at Atlanta City Hall, Ralston has expressed doubts that the legislation is needed.

Should language of SB 131 be added to HB 447, the jet fuel tax break would become one of the most prominent hostages of the 2019 session.

We may know more about the situation this afternoon. HB 447 is one of four bills that will be considered by the Senate Finance Committee at 2 p.m.

In the meantime, an astute reader notes that a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport would require the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump nominated Steve Dickson, a former Delta executive, to head the agency.

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By now you know that the MARTA referendum in Gwinnett County failed on Tuesday by a vote of 46 to 54 percent. Days ago, we told you that a no vote wouldn’t be the end of the transit discussion in one of Georgia’s fastest-growing counties.

After defeat became apparent, our AJC team quoted Charlotte Nash, chairman of the Gwinnett County Commission thusly: “The main thing now is to choose the right date for the next referendum.”

Meanwhile, our AJC colleague David Wickert had this late night dispatch:

The group Atlanta BeltLine Now issued a statement just after midnight expressing disappointment that “our neighbors in Gwinnett County again turned their backs on MARTA.” But the group called the result “a chance to turn our attention back to communities that are already on board.”

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., told The Bulwark website that he intends to give President Donald Trump a verbal “whipping” today for his continued criticism of the late John McCain. Where will it happen? At 2 p.m. on GPB’s “Political Rewind” with Bill Nigut. One of your Insiders will be at the microphone, too. Listen here.

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The AJC’s Chris Joyner reports that Georgia’s lawyer-legislators would no longer be able to automatically delay court hearings for their private clients any time they want under a proposal by an panel appointed by House Speaker David Ralston, who has come under fire for his use of legislative delays

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Don’t expect Stacey Abrams to ever concede last year’s race for governor against Brian Kemp. And don’t expect Republicans to ever let up on her refusal to do so. 

One of your Insiders was on the Vanderbilt University campus in Nashville on Tuesday, when Abrams spoke of how she decided to end her campaign for governor after last year’s Nov. 6 vote.

“I don’t concede that I lost. I acknowledge that I’m not the governor of Georgia,” she said. “That’s made plain everyday I don’t walk into the Governor’s Mansion.”

She recounted 10 days of purgatory between the election and her non-concession speech. She said she had no qualms about the semantics because, she alleges, Kemp abused his position as secretary of state to suppress votes. It is a charge that Kemp vehemently denies. 

“I upend the tradition of politics where you’re supposed to be genteel, say everything is fine. I didn’t do that,” she said, adding: “I could fight just to fight, but the minute it becomes about me, it becomes a vanity project. ... That can’t be the reason you do things. And I spent that 10-day period plotting. Revenge can be very cathartic.”

That brought howls from Republicans who see hypocrisy in how Abrams is being treated. 

“When President Trump just talked about the possibility of rigged elections, the media pounced,” said Josh McKoon, a former Republican state senator. “Stacey Abrams refuses to acknowledge the result of a free and fair election that she lost by [55,000] votes? Just another Tuesday.”

Not surprisingly, Abrams didn’t shed new light on whether she’ll run for Senate, governor or seek higher office. But she gave two criteria for her meetings with presidential contenders (including a meeting scheduled Wednesday with ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper). 

Said Abrams: “One, you have to tell me what you’re going to do about voter suppression. And two, you have to believe Georgia is a swing state.”

***

The Emory Wheel, by the way, tells us that Abrams has been selected to speak at Emory University’s Class Day on May 9.

***

Last year, just after he had qualified in the Republican race for lieutenant governor, state Sen. David Shafer was accused of sexual harassment by a lobbyist.

The complaint was dismissed, but not before the Senate Ethics Committee hired Atlanta lawyer Penn Payne to investigate the case. Our AJC colleague James Salzer has now dug up the price tag for that probe.

The investigation lasted about a month, and the ethics committee met in private. Because the General Assembly has exempted itself from the Open Meetings Act, everything about what they did was kept secret at the time.

The AJC was able to get a copy of Payne’s 58-page report, which contained this finding: “My ultimate conclusions are that it is more likely that Sen. Shafer did not make sexually harassing comments and demands than it is likely that he did.”

As for the price tag, the answer was contained in the state’s Open Georgia website, which updates all salaries and state expenditures about six months after the end of each fiscal year, which is June 30.

Salzer found that the General Assembly paid Payne $78,396 in fiscal 2018. It is unclear if there were other costs associated with the investigation.

***

Vice President Mike Pence will be in town on Thursday afternoon for a two-part visit. He’ll tour the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s local field office, then head to a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is up for re-election next year.

This is the VP’s first trip to Georgia in 2019. He traveled to the state twice last fall to tour damage from Hurricane Michael and stump for then-gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp. Pence’s former top aide Nick Ayers recently moved back to Georgia after declining an offer to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. 

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Note to Republicans in metro Atlanta: Help is on the way. Politico.com tells us that U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., has launched something called the Suburban Caucus, an informal group on Capitol Hill aimed at helping the GOP win back suburban voters, particularly women who defected from the party in 2018. From the news site:

The caucus plans to hear directly from constituents to craft a policy agenda that resonates with suburban voters and soccer parents. The idea is to create a roadmap for Republican candidates who are running in suburban swing districts all around the country in 2020.

You’ll remember that Wagner, late in the 2016 campaign, called for GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump to withdraw his candidacy after the Access Hollywood tape went viral.

She withdrew her demand for Trump’s withdrawal just before Election Day.

***

Briahna Joy Gray, the new press secretary for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, has had some notable things to say about members of the Democratic establish. Take that time when U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, Tweeted out photos of himself with his cats. Snarked Gray, also on Twitter:

Careful. We know Lewis will throw cats under the bus if it helps the DNC. #BernieWouldHaveWon

Gray was previously a senior politics editor at The Intercept.

***

Over at the Macon Telegraph, Max Blau has a worth-the-read piece on the lack of African-American involvement in fights over medicinal marijuana:

Minorities have been largely absent from the push for medical cannabis across the South. Following the lead of Arkansas and Florida, white male conservative lawmakers are spearheading legalization drives in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

One impact: Treatment for sickle-cell anemia is often left out of lists for diseases and conditions that allow patients to use the substance – though not in Georgia.

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