Delta CEO defends Georgia jet fuel tax cut proposal

Amid heated debate over a proposed jet fuel tax exemption, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian made his case for the measure that would benefit airlines in Georgia.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jay Powell, R-Camilla has said eliminating the state tax and most local taxes would amount to a break of about $50 million for all airlines and cargo companies, the AJC’s James Salzer has reported.

For Delta, the fuel tax exemption would mean about $40 million in savings, according to Bastian.

“That’s a lot of money,” Bastian said during a company profit sharing event at its headquarters Wednesday. “Forty million means additional flights that we’ll be able to invest here in Atlanta.”

Students say the bill would take away nearly 20 percent of the district’s revenue, including programs.

He said Georgia has “one of the highest fuel taxes in the country and it deters travel here.... And so we support the governor’s proposal to eliminate that burden.”

“Many of the states like Texas or the Carolinas or Florida do not have fuel taxes, all areas that we compete with,” Bastian said. An exemption in Georgia “we think it’s just going to be able bring more flying to Georgia and Atlanta and to Hartsfield-Jackson.”

It’s a controversial topic because some beneficiaries of the tax revenue, including Clayton County schools, say the loss of the revenue could deeply affect their budgets.

A day earlier, Clayton County Public Schools superintendent Morcease Beasley had more than 500 students bused to the headquarters of Delta Air Lines that morning to protest a legislative push to eliminate the tax.

“We were visited by a number of the schoolchildren in Clayton County yesterday,” Bastian said. “We had a nice visit. We fed them Chick-fil-A, took them over to the museum.”

“We’re going to be hiring a lot of people in the future years, so we hope many of those kids are going to grow up to be Delta employees,” Bastian said.

Bastian said Delta has been working with Beasley for a year “to try to figure out what the future is.”

But on Wednesday while Bastian was celebrating profit-sharing payouts with employees, Beasley was issuing a statement pointing a finger at Delta.

Delta executive vice president Joanne Smith had sent a letter to employees in Clayton County saying the company told Clayton that Delta doesn’t want to see a funding shortfall for its schools as a sales tax on jet fuel is phased out. “Statements to the contrary from the school superintendent are simply not correct,” she wrote.

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AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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