Opinion: How to fuel economic trouble

The political stunt to burn away a jet-fuel tax savings for Delta Air Lines scorches the pro-business stance Georgia lawmakers love to trumpet. It may also damage prospects for winning Amazon’s HQ2.

Once upon a time, Georgia had politicians who were generally wise enough to not let election-season antics act against economic development. They understood that “wisdom” and “moderation” comprise two of three words in the state motto.

That season of common sense is gone, it seems. Nothing proves this moreso than the recent boneheaded and corrosive actions to punish Delta Air Lines for moving to end discount fares for NRA members.

Our opposition to this potentially costly politicking is not about siding with the NRA – or warring with them. Nor is it an attack on conservatism.

Rather, our objections to the ridiculous and harmful public flogging of a huge, taxpaying employer is decidedly about what is best for a place that has as its unofficial motto “We’re the best state in the nation to do business.”

Last week’s vendetta against Delta makes a mockery of that overused slogan, and the hard-fought efforts to make it ring true.

There is no legitimate reason, aside from baldly partisan politics, to deep-six the restoration of a jet fuel tax cut for Delta. The political motivation is clear, given Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and a host of other GOP leaders are themselves seeking new offices this year. There's little else to explain comments like these by Cagle: "I'm tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values. It's time we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important, not just to Georgia but to the entire nation," he said. "We can fight for jobs, but we can also fight for values."

Indeed, there are subjective arguments that can be made over “values.” They’ve been made since the dawn of this Republic. That’s part of the American fabric.

It’s the “jobs” part that should worry Georgians — of any political hue. Georgia either wants to be a 21st century economic contender – or we don’t. Competing in a diverse global economy won’t help draw wins here by pitting “us” against “them”. Not when giant employers are counted among the “them.”

The Gold Dome should not forget that, if for no other reason than that metro Atlanta remains a contender for Amazon’s HQ2, which could bring billions in investment and up to 50,000 high-paying jobs here. The ripple effect would touch all corners of this state if we won this prize.

It’s foolhardy, frankly, to believe that the site-selection folks at Amazon’s Left Coast headquarters are not paying close attention to the antics here in Georgia. Amazon did not quickly build a retailing colossus by being inattentive to the landscape and its prevailing winds.

It could be instructive to wonder what they think of the likes of Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a candidate for governor, joining in the flail-Delta fray by saying, “Now, it’s time for the Georgia Senate to kill the tax break for Delta and replace it with a sales tax holiday that benefits the same 2nd Amendment supporters that Delta — and other corporate cowards — are publicly shaming.” Specifically, Kemp proposes a sales tax holiday on sales of guns and ammunition and other firearms-related hardware.

As we’ve said on this page many times, the Second Amendment is clear on the right of people to arm themselves. And, in an ironic, rare sign of bipartisanship in a bitterly divided age, there’s evidence that as many on the Left are buying guns these days as are those on the Right.

This should instead be about maintaining a state political and business environment that really is conducive to revving economic forces toward greater growth and prosperity. That’s not the same as offering red-meat tidbits to win elections.

The sacrificial offerings made on the altar of partisan politics should not torch economic development in the process, we believe.

The tantalizing prospect of possibly gaining Amazon’s HQ2 here is not the only business-development prospect at risk, we believe.

For the second time in three years, the Georgia General Assembly has punished Delta by yanking the fuel tax break, now worth $50 million annually. The first instance came when Delta’s then-CEO bravely spoke out forcefully in exhorting the Legislature to take bold steps to begin funding fixes for transportation gridlock that is throttling business growth as surely as any liberal’s tax-and-spend scheme ever did.

We warned against the Legislature's venal action back then, writing: "And, for Georgia's good, the Senate should unwind the bit of petty legislative revenge aimed at Delta Air Lines. A faction of lawmakers … wants to publicly punish Delta CEO Richard Anderson for daring to speak the truth about our transportation starvation. We believe the Bible's right: The truth shall make you free. The God-professing bunch at the Gold Dome should know that.

And nixing Delta's jet-fuel tax exemption is a stunt better suited to "Tax on brother!" liberals than GOP conservatives who are supposedly pro-business."

Those words hold equally true this time around, we believe. Especially, given what else we wrote in that 2015 editorial, warning that lawmakers "should know that airlines have been led historically by quirky, if not mercurial, types. By contrast, Delta's bespectacled, buttoned-down Anderson is pretty low-key.

The ‘whup Delta’ faction should realize that the airline business is a portable one. That’s a sobering realization when some lawmakers are blowing more hot air than a 737 roaring down a Hartsfield-Jackson runway. At least the jetliner is going somewhere.

Delta kept its roots and its headquarters here after acquiring Northwest Airlines in 2008. Yet, air carriers have been known to uproot and move operations to more-suitable climates, local consequences be damned.”

That should not be overlooked. Even though Delta’s as Southern a business as the boll weevils that led them to begin flying to help eradicate, their presence, their payroll and their mighty influence on Georgia’s economy should not be taken for granted.

Ideally, now that they’ve played to their likely voters, the Gold Dome’s rulers will find a way to quietly undo their reckless and punitive assault on a solid corporate citizen.

Barring that bit of economic maturity, they should at least have the good sense to stifle themselves on this and other political opera performances until after Amazon makes its decision. Doing otherwise makes a mockery of the pro-business attitude they loudly purport to support.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.