Delta to review discounts amid NRA flap

In the wake of the controversy over Delta Air Lines' end of a National Rifle Association discount, the Atlanta-based airline said it is reviewing all discounts "of a politically divisive nature."

The move comes after backlash from lawmakers in the Georgia Legislature, who removed from a tax-cutting bill a $50 million jet fuel tax break that would have benefited Delta.

Gov. Nathan Deal had supported the jet fuel tax exemption, but signed the bill Friday after chastising Republicans in the legislature for their "antics." He said the broader tax savings in the bill are "what is right for our citizens."

Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a Friday memo to employees obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution thanked Deal, calling him a “great friend to Delta.” He added: “I know this action by the state legislature troubled him as it does all of us.”

The controversy over Delta’s discontinuation of the NRA discount gained national attention Monday when Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle tweeted: “I will kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta unless the company changes its position and fully reinstates its relationship with @NRA. Corporations cannot attack conservatives and expect us not to fight back.”

A Delta spokesman said only 13 tickets were sold under the NRA discount — a group travel discount for members to travel to the NRA’s convention — before it was discontinued.

Cagle, in an op-ed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted Friday, wrote that "no punitive action was taken against Delta for its decision."

"Delta is family in Georgia, and like many family members, we sometimes disagree," Cagle wrote. "And this disagreement is rooted in values that conservatives in our state hold dear, and for which we are willing to stand and defend."

Bastian said in his memo that Delta’s intent in discontinuing the NRA discount was to remain neutral in the gun control debate.

“Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale,” Bastian wrote. “We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.”

The review comes after Republican Michael Williams, a Georgia state senator and candidate for governor, said on CNN on Tuesday that he believed Delta was "giving discounts to left-leaning organizations as well," and asked, "why not pull it for Planned Parenthood?" CNN host Brianna Keilar responded, "Where are you getting that? … I've seen allegations of that on right-wing blogs, but I've seen no verification of that."

After Cagle's tweet, cities and states saw opportunity and suggested on Twitter and in letters to Bastian that the company move its headquarters to their jurisdictions.

In his memo, Bastian wrote: “None of this changes the fact that our home is Atlanta and we are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here.”

He said in the memo that the airline’s employees and customers “have a wide range of views on how to increase safety in our schools and public places, and we are not taking sides.”

While the controversy over the NRA and Delta’s tax break overwhelmed much of the political discussion in Georgia this week, the tax cut signed into law by Deal on Friday has significant impact for taxpayers.

The measure lowers state income tax rates to eliminate what was expected to be a state windfall from the federal tax plan Congress passed in December.

The potential state windfall existed because the federal law limits or eliminates some of the deductions used when figuring state taxes, making it more likely taxpayers would use the standard federal deduction rather than itemized deductions that would lower their state taxable income.

As a result, some taxpayers in Georgia would have ended up with bigger state tax bills — unless Georgia lawmakers changed the state’s tax code.

The estimated windfall was $5.2 billion over five years, and HB 918 will wipe out the potential state windfall and cut taxes by an estimated $330 million over five years in Georgia.

A fiscal accounting said Georgians would still be paying more to the state — even after the new rates — until fiscal 2021. Then the state’s tax take would drop under the bill. The net impact would be an increase in business taxes but a $1.4 billion cut in individual income taxes — combined — in fiscal 2021-2023.

The measure cuts the top state income tax rate — which most Georgians pay on a majority of their income — from 6 percent to 5.5 percent over two years.

It also doubles the standard deduction for Georgians. For married couples filing joint returns, the deduction goes from $3,000 to $6,000.

The AJC’s James Salzer contributed to this report.