Kempner: Delta, NRA and Cagle’s political litmus test for taxpayers

Delta Air Lines has had its headquarters in Atlanta since 1941. Founder C.E. Woolman moved the airline’s headquarters from Monroe, La., to Atlanta.

Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is being bad for business. Which means he’s being bad for jobs in Georgia.

That’s a problem for a guy running to be governor.

Cagle’s economic sin isn’t that he’s critical of Delta Air Lines — the state’s largest private employer — for ending a travel discount it offered to NRA members.

No, Cagle’s mistake is that he took a deeply flawed stand that will surely unnerve business leaders and employers in many industries. And he shouted it from the digital hilltops.

Cagle tweeted that he will “kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA.”

What about Planned Parenthood?

Forget his mention of the National Rifle Association for a second. Insert another group’s name instead. Say Planned Parenthood or Greenpeace or maybe the AFL-CIO.

Politicians shouldn’t decide how to treat taxpayers and set long-term tax law based on whether the elected politician happens to personally agree with a taxpayer’s beliefs.

Delta, by the way, insists it supports the Second Amendment, is neutral on the gun debate and intended to avoid a "politically and emotionally charged issue."

But those are just the kind of juicy issues a guy running for governor would love to drag back into the fire, jobs be damned.

Cagle’s most immediate target for retribution was part of a bill pushed by Delta and other airlines that would excuse them from paying sales taxes on jet fuel.

Flawed opposition to flawed tax break

I've criticized the proposed exemption as an unwarranted tax giveaway. But the lieutenant governor's reasoning is even worse than the bad bill.

Legislators have now eliminated the exemption Delta sought, while passing broader tax changes. Gov. Nathan Deal, acting as the adult in the room, lambasted fellow politicians for using the Delta/NRA episode for election-year "immaturity."

The irony is that Cagle has tried to peddle himself as a “tax reform” kind of guy. The lieutenant governor claims he will ensure companies “have the tools they need to grow and expand.”

Unless, I guess, they don’t give travel discounts to a group he likes.

In which case he will change or refuse to change state law that encompasses the entire airline and air cargo industry in Georgia.

If he’ll try to do that to corporate taxpayers, what’s to stop him from doing that to individual taxpayers, too?

Are you doing enough in your personal life for political causes Cagle supports? Maybe you better or the guy who wants to be governor will try to find a way to add to your tax bill.

How to scare employers

Cagle's convoluted position was shared by some other legislators.

That’s foolish at any time. It’s particularly foolish now, when we’re competing to gain 50,000 new jobs from an Amazon headquarters. We should be showing Amazon that Georgia is led by thoughtful political leaders rather than volatile ones.

Why would sophisticated business leaders trying to reshape whole industries locate here if they have to worry about politicians using the law to micromanage corporate decisions on items like travel discounts?

Georgia’s legislature has now highlighted its churlish pettiness for a second time when it comes to tax breaks tied to Delta.

Three years ago legislators rallied around reinstating jet fuel taxes at least in part because politicians were frustrated with statements by Delta's then-CEO. The CEO's mistake? He had cautioned against being "chicken" of pushing for increased taxes to pay for fixes to metro Atlanta's monumental traffic problems.

Want to know why our tax code is a mess?

Because politicians so frequently stack the deck, picking winners and losers.

Be mad at the twisted logic they’ve used to do it yet again.

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