The state legislature in Georgia has voted to eliminate a jet fuel tax break for Delta, after the company’s leadership flip-flopped on Georgia’s recent voting bill. This situation is so messy on so many levels.
Georgia’s controversial new voting bill
Last week lawmakers in Georgia passed a voting bill, based on the premise that there was widespread voting fraud in the 2020 election. The new bill has been largely supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, with President Joe Biden calling the bill “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
What are Democrats taking issue with? Among other things, the new voting bill makes it illegal to approach voters waiting in long lines to offer them food or water, and it allows unlimited challenges to a voter’s registration. On the plus side, the bill wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as it does protect being able to request an absentee ballot without justification, and it expands early in-person voting.
Here’s the thing, though — I don’t want to make this political beyond Delta’s part in this. Regardless of how you feel about the law, chances are that we can agree that the way Delta handled this situation was… not brilliant.
Delta publicly expressed support for the voting bill
Shortly after the Georgia voting bill was passed late last week, Delta released the following statement attributed to CEO Ed Bastian:
“Delta believes that full and equal access to voting is a fundamental right for all citizens. Over the past several weeks, Delta engaged extensively with state elected officials in both parties to express our strong view that Georgia must have a fair and secure election process, with broad voter participation and equal access to the polls.
The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason. For the first time, drop boxes have also been authorized for all counties statewide and poll workers will be allowed to work across county lines.
Nonetheless, we understand concerns remain over other provisions in the legislation, and there continues to be work ahead in this important effort. We are committed to continuing to listen to our people and our communities, and engage with leaders from both parties to ensure every eligible employee and Georgia voter can exercise their right to vote.”
Unlike some others, personally I didn’t view Delta’s statement as expressing unequivocal support for the bill, or suggesting it was the best thing ever. Delta’s stance was that the legislation “improved considerably during the legislative process,” noting that “concerns remain” and that “there continues to be work ahead in this important effort.”
At the same time, the airline didn’t publicly oppose the aspects of the bill that people found unacceptable. Delta got huge backlash for its stance, with many calling for a boycott of the airline.
Delta doubled down on its voting bill stance
After the backlash that Delta received, CEO Ed Bastian seemingly doubled down on his support of the bill. Employees expressed concern about the company’s stance, so Bastian released an internal video defending Delta’s position. His argument was that Delta was trying to help shape legislation behind the scenes rather than in the media.
He also stated that since the state legislature was Republican-controlled, there was no way the company would be able to completely prevent the bill from being passed. In other words, Delta knew the bill was going to pass, did what it could to improve it a bit, and figured there was no point in being publicly negative about it.
Then Delta backtracked on the bill
Delta got even more backlash after doubling down on its stance, and at that point the company issued a memo to employees, stating that the Georgia voting bill is “unacceptable” and “does not match” the company’s values.
Bastian also stated that “the entire rationale for the bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia.”
State legislature votes to strip Delta tax break
Yesterday Georgia’s House of Representatives voted to strip Delta of a tax break that it gets on jet fuel, which is worth tens of millions of dollars per year. This was done after Delta backtracked on the voting bill and condemned the government. I guess as it was viewed, if Delta didn’t support the state legislature, the state legislature wouldn’t support Delta.
However, ultimately this was only symbolic, since the State Senate didn’t take up the measure before adjourning its yearly session.
This is the second time that Delta has been in a situation like this — back in 2018 Delta ended its contract to provide discounted rates for group travel to the NRA. As a result, Republicans in Georgia voted to strip Delta of its tax break on jet fuel.
Regardless of how you feel about the Georgia voting bill, I think we can all agree that Delta didn’t exactly handle this optimally — the airline managed to annoy just about everyone, and there was even a vote to strip the airline of tens of millions of dollars worth of tax breaks on jet fuel (though that was ultimately only symbolic).
On the surface I can appreciate where Delta was originally coming from — the airline didn’t think it would be able to squash the bill altogether, so it tried to make it as not-bad as possible. The issue is that you can’t then put out a statement making it sound like the company generally supports the legislation, if that’s not the case. And then when you get backlash, it’s probably not smart to double down. And then when you get more backlash it’s probably not best to reverse your position.
Also, isn’t it a bit odd how involved corporations are in the crafting of bills about how individuals can vote? And for that matter, isn’t it also interesting how lawmakers only support low taxes for those who support their agenda?
I’m curious, does anyone not think Delta screwed up big time, at least with its messaging?