Kemp backs Georgia tax break on jet fuel for Delta, other airlines

Gov. Brian Kemp has gotten behind a jet-fuel tax break that could mean a $40 million annual savings for Delta Air Lines and millions more for other air carriers.

Legislation filed by Kemp’s floor leader on Friday would include a small excise tax for 20 years so the state could receive matching money from the federal government ($9 for every $1 the state puts in) for projects at rural airports across Georgia. It is initially expected to raise about $3.6 million a year for the state, but that could increase over time.

“As governor, I am committed to ensuring greater opportunity for all Georgians — no matter their ZIP code,” Kemp said in a release announcing the bill. “This legislation allows Georgia to leverage federal aviation funds to directly benefit rural airports, create jobs and spur economic growth in surrounding communities.”

Delta and other airlines have been pushing for renewal of legislation eliminating the jet-fuel tax, a measure that expires June 30.

Last year, then-Gov. Nathan Deal pushed for the tax break. But Delta broke marketing ties with the National Rifle Association as the bill was making its way through the General Assembly, and lawmakers, led by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, then a leading candidate for governor, stopped its progress.

Deal made two moves after the session in response: 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.

He also called the General Assembly into a special session in November to approve funding to help southwest Georgia after Hurricane Michael. While they were in Atlanta, lawmakers backed Deal’s executive order, with the jet-fuel tax break running through June 30.

Supporters of the tax break say that most other states with major airline hubs have either lower or no taxes on jet fuel. They also say states that eliminated or suspended the tax — such as North Carolina — have seen increased airport traffic and investment, particularly at regional airports.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, expressed support for the jet-fuel tax suspension during the special session in November.

“I haven’t seen the bill yet, so I don’t know exactly what it does,” Ralston said Friday. “I know that the governor is very committed to strengthening our network of airports in rural Georgia, the smaller airports. They’re great economic development enhancement, and I support them in that regard. We’ll take a look at the bill and let it go through the Ways and Means process, and we’ll see what happens.”

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