Delta Gave Georgia GOP Lawmakers Platinum Upgrades, Then Received $30 Million Tax Break

Three weeks ago, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed into law a major tax break for Delta Airlines — the world’s largest commercial airline — that would enable it to purchase jet fuel at a lower rate. The tax break blew a $30 million hole in the state’s budget, and was given to the company at a time when its profits are topping $1 billion:

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a hefty tax break for Delta Air Lines Inc. The bill Deal signed into law on Wednesday will save the Georgia-based airline up to $30 million on jet fuel taxes over two years.

Supporters say the state must work to keep Delta in the state because it brings in millions of dollars in economic development. Opponents said when the tax break on jet fuel originated several years ago, the company was facing bankruptcy but it reported more than $1 billion in profits last year and doesn’t need the help now.

Many wondered why Deal and his GOP allies in the state legislature were so eager to reduce the flow of revenue to the state’s coffers at a time when budget cuts are forcing thousands of elderly Georgians to go without home-delivered meals and cutting deeply into the education system.

Now, a new investigation by Atlanta’s WSB-TV finds one possible answer why the state’s top GOP lawmakers gave Delta such a treasured tax break. The station found that Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle (R) and five Republican leaders in the legislature were given free “upgrades to platinum or gold frequent flyer status,” which include access to special security lines, far more frequent flyer miles, and free upgrades to first class in some circumstances.

While the company did register the upgrades as campaign contributions, the station argues that the company undervalued them. Delta said the upgrades were worth $1,600-$2,400, but renowned consumer reporter Clark Howard said the actual value of the upgrades was closer to $10,000-$15,000 a year, and that they should be registered as gifts from lobbyists, not simple contributions. Watch WSB’s report about the upgrades:

Commenting on the case, Georgia Politico’s Dustin Baker writes, “There are much more cost-efficient ways to get bumped up to first class. Then again, since you’re paying for it with Georgia tax dollars, I guess it is pretty much free for you.”