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Lobbyists spend big feeding lawmakers during Georgia’s special session

Last month’s special session of the General Assembly cost the state about $40,000 a day to pay lawmakers, but taxpayers weren’t the only ones stuck with a bill.

Lobbyists spent about $20,000 during the five-day session in mid-November, mostly for feeding lawmakers and their staffers, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Likely the biggest spenders during the session were lobbyists representing Delta Air Lines, which had some important business before the lawmakers.

Gov. Nathan Deal called lawmakers into a special session the week after the general election to approve a $470 million package of aid and tax cuts for Hurricane Michael-ravaged southwest Georgia. Legislators moved quickly to approve help for the devastated part of the state in the minimum time to pass such bills, five days.

Because Deal called them into a lame-duck session before he leaves office in January, lawmakers also had to consider executive orders the governor had signed since the last session ended in March.

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That’s where Delta came in. After failing to get lawmakers to eliminate jet-fuel taxes during the 2018 regular session — thanks to a riff between Delta and the National Rife Association — Deal signed an executive order in July suspending the levy.

While there was some opposition, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted during the special session to uphold Deal’s order through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Estimates are the suspension will save Delta about $40 million a year and other airlines millions more, but they will have to lobby again when the General Assembly reconvenes in January to keep the tax off jet fuel.

Delta said it would help Georgia better compete for business with other states that had no or much lower jet-fuel taxes. Legislative supporters called it a “tax cut” and said it could mean more flights and cheaper ticket prices for customers. Delta officials didn’t promise lower fares if the measure passed.

The company said this week that despite higher fuel costs earlier this year, it still expects about $5 billion in pre-tax income for 2018.

Delta’s lobbyists were busy and very visible at the Capitol during the five-day session.

Lobbyist disclosures showed Trip Martin and his GeorgiaLink team — which represents Delta — spent about $2,900 over the five days of the session on meals for lawmakers, including two breakfasts for the Senate Democratic Caucus, a lunch for the House Democratic Caucus, a share of a lunch for the Georgia Women’s Legislative Caucus and breakfast for the Senate Republican Caucus.

Another firm hired to lobby for Delta, Troutman Sanders, reported spending $433 for legislators’ meals.

The $20,000 in spending during the five-day session was fairly low for a period when legislators were in Atlanta. For example, lobbyists spent about $9,500 a day, excluding weekends, during the 2018 regular session.

But it’s a lot more than they’d typically spend in mid-November. Last year, lobbyists spent about $2,900 during the same five-day period on lawmakers, about half of which came from a single Georgia Power meeting with metro Atlanta legislators.

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