Lawmaker rips Delta, lobbyists

Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, slammed Delta Air Lines and its lobbyists on Tuesday, accusing the Atlanta-based airline of using "thug tactics" to threaten colleagues.

Ehrhart is the sponsor of House Bill 175, which would end Delta's lucrative state tax credit on fuel. Ehrhart said he filed the bill after hearing Delta CEO Richard Anderson urge lawmakers not to be "chickens" about raising gasoline taxes to fund transportation improvements.

“They made $2.8 billion (in profits) last year,” Ehrhart said in an interview, yet the airline continues to receive one of the richest tax credits in the state. He said it was “ridiculous” that Delta commands such a tax credit but wants lawmakers to raise taxes on motorists.

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said Ehrhart is “completely wrong.”

“He has proposed a tax increase on air travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other Georgia airports,” Banstetter said. “His proposal violates federal law and puts the state at risk of losing critical aviation funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Ehrhart voted to put the tax break into law in 2005 when the company was facing financial problems. He voted to renew the Delta tax break in 2007, 2009, and 2011 and make it permanent in 2012.

His bill this year would limit the fuel tax credit to airlines with fuel tax liabilities of $15 million or less, which he said would include Southwest Airlines but not Delta.

Ehrhart took to the House floor after hearing that a lobbyist for Delta was threatening co-sponsors of the bill.

“There’s some things that aren’t done,” Ehrhart said.

Ehrhart wouldn’t name the Delta lobbyist and said most members of the airline’s team at the Capitol are professional. Delta has 12 registered lobbyists, according to the state ethics commission, including heavyweights Pete Robinson and Jerry Keen.

But Delta’s Banstetter said no Delta lobbyist threatened anyone.