KENT D. JOHNSON /kdjohnson@ajc.com

Georgia House backs jet-fuel tax break for Delta, other airlines

The Georgia House overwhelmingly backed legislation Tuesday to exempt air carriers such as Delta Air Lines from paying state taxes on jet fuel, saving them tens of millions of dollars each year.

The 140-25 vote for House Bill 447 was not a surprise, since it was backed by Gov. Brian Kemp and a similar tax break measure won the chamber’s approval last year.

Last year’s legislation died after Delta ran afoul of the National Rifle Association, and the tax break got mixed up in election-year politics. This year there has been, so far, no such issue.

Under the measure sponsored by state Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas, floor leader for Kemp, the sales-tax exemption on jet fuel would be extended for 20 years. The assembly voted during a special session in November to extend it to June 30, so lawmakers would have to take action during the 2019 session to keep it on the books.

Most of the $35 million to $40 million in savings would go to airlines and freight companies, and a huge chunk of that would be saved by Delta.

It now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

As an incentive to rural lawmakers, the bill also contains a small excise tax on fuel that would raise roughly$3.5 million to$4 million a year. The money would be used as a local match to obtain federal funding, which in turn would be spent on small-town airports.

LaRiccia said airlines would essentially be paying excise taxes to help small airports that their planes are too big to use.

State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, urged lawmakers to consider raising the excise tax in the bill so the state can do more to maintain and improve rural airports in the state.

Last session it looked like airlines would receive a permanent tax break. But then Delta broke marketing ties with the NRA and lawmakers, led by Lt.Gov.Casey Cagle, stopped its progress.

Then-Gov. Nathan Deal responded after the 2018 session with two moves: The state stopped collecting the local portion of the jet-fuel tax on July 1, and then later in the month, the governor signed an executive order suspending collections of the state portion of the tax. The Legislature backed that executive order.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

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