'Naked politics' of punishing Delta could haunt Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers' decision to punish Delta Air Lines for publicly distancing itself from the National Rifle Association was an extraordinary act of political revenge.

By killing a proposed tax break on jet fuel, pro-gun Republicans won a political victory that could pay off in the short term, but other companies won't soon forget that Georgia allied itself with the NRA over one of its largest private employers, with 33,000 workers statewide.

"When you inject naked politics – and that's what this is – into the economic equation, I think that it does have the chance of spooking the business community," said Tom Stringer, a New York-based consultant for the business-advisory firm BDO. "One thing about the business community is that it has a very long memory."

The uproar began last Saturday when Delta stopped offering fare discounts to NRA members in the wake of the school massacre in Florida. Today, Delta CEO Ed Bastian insisted in a memo to employees that the company was "not taking sides" on gun control and made the decision in hopes of removing itself from the gun debate. He said the company's "values are not for sale" and "we are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here."

Delta recently signed a 20-year lease to keep its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, and business consultants said other Atlanta-based firms, such as Coca-Cola and UPS, will likely stay put too. But GOP lawmakers' willingness to use public money to try to intimidate corporations could damage Georgia's ability to attract new industry – including Amazon, which recently named metro Atlanta a finalist for its coveted second headquarters.

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