Delta CEO insists "we are not taking sides" in U.S. gun debate

JAN. 21 2010

He stressed in the memo that Delta is "proud and honored" to be based in Atlanta and that the company supports the Second Amendment.

Ignoring warnings that taking on Delta could harm the state's pro-business image, the GOP-controlled House, which had earlier approved a larger tax bill containing the exemption, voted 135-24 on Thursday for a new version stripped of the provision.

The airline giant faces criticism from Georgia Republican leaders, who are threatening to kill lucrative tax benefits for the airline if they don't continue their relationship with the NRA.

Caught in a maelstrom over his company's decision to cut ties with the National Rifle Association, Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian said Friday that his intention had been to "remain neutral" and "remove Delta from this [gun control] debate". "Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale".

Bastian released the memo a day after the Georgia state legislature passed a tax bill in which a fuel tax exemption for Delta-which reportedly would have saved the carrier approximately $40 million per year-had been excised from the legislation by pro-NRA Georgia lawmakers as a protest against the state's largest private employer.

As the #BoycottNRA movement spread, NRA members - including some Georgia lawmakers - wondered why Delta wasn't discontinuing any of those discounts, too.

Bastian explained that on February 24, Delta rescinded a one-time group travel discount for the NRA's annual meeting, and asked NRA to remove the Delta name and logo from NRA's website.

"Obviously the political environment does sometimes get a little testy, but in the end, it's all about the product", said Cagle, who is running this year to succeed the term-limited governor.

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Delta joined United Airlines and more than a dozen other companies in severing ties with the N.R.A. following the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., last month.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal criticized the Delta controversy as an "unbecoming squabble" but said he would sign the broader tax measure in whatever form it passed. "Our objective in removing any implied affiliation with the NRA was to remove Delta from this debate".

The Senate passed the tax cut bill 44-10.

GOP Sen. Michael Williams, another gubernatorial candidate, praised Republicans for holding out in the face of criticism from the news media and corporate America.

GOP lawmakers amended a sweeping tax bill to eliminate a fuel-tax exemption worth at least an estimated $38 million to Delta and other airlines. Delta, which has a hub at Hartsfield Jackson Airport, would be the prime beneficiary.

"I hope they are better at flying planes than timing PR announcements", Ralston said.

In a Wednesday letter, Stacey Evans urged Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to investigate Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's recent tweet in which Cagle said he would "kill" tax legislation benefiting Delta unless the airline reverses its stance.

The broader tax bill would cut the top tax rate for individuals and businesses and double the standard deduction for all filers. "I don't think so".

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