Tax break for airlines like Delta experiencing no turbulence this time

The latest legislation to exempt air carries such as Delta Air Lines from paying state taxes on jet fuel is zooming through the General Assembly.

Less than a week after the bill was filed, it passed its first test, winning the approval of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is expected to get through the full House in the coming days.

State Rep. Dominic LaRiccia, R-Douglas, floor leader for Gov. Brian Kemp, filed the bill Friday to extend the sales tax exemption on jet fuel for 20 years. The General 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.

As an incentive to rural lawmakers, House Bill 447 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 across the state.

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, a member of the committee, said the state needs to do more to maintain and improve the more than 100 rural airports in the state. “I am not sure this goes as far as it needs to go,” Knight said.

Last session it looked like airlines would get a permanent tax break. But then Delta broke marketing ties with the National Rifle Association and lawmakers, led by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, then a leading candidate for governor, stopped its progress.

Then-Gov. Nathan Deal made two moves after the 2018 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. The General Assembly backed that executive order, through June 30.

Supporters 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.

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