Do Georgia Republican politicians have amnesia?
Why would a slew of them, fearful of the National Rifle Association, seemingly have no problem with voting to take away a $50 million tax break from Delta and risk the possibility that nearly 85,000 jobs sprint across the state line, along with tens of billions of dollars for the local economy?
Don’t they remember when another symbolic move nearly deprived the state of a sports-related economic bonanza?
One would hope that the story of how the old state flag, which was essentially the Confederate flag, nearly strangled Georgia’s ability to host lucrative national sporting events in Atlanta wouldn’t be so easily forgotten.
Back then, the NFL began cracking down on giving Super Bowls to cities that weren’t politically correct. In fact, league officials moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Los Angeles after the state of Arizona refused to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a paid state holiday.
Even though Atlanta hosted Super Bowls in 1994 and 2000, the city’s chances of getting future ones seemed to depend on whether Georgia lawmakers would change their state flag. The pleas to keep the status quo were powerful, both inside and outside of the statehouse, but so were the cries for Georgia to realize Robert E. Lee was dead.
As a sports columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during the summer of 2000, I wrote, “Atlanta should never get another Final Four. Atlanta should never get another Super Bowl. Atlanta should never get another anything from outside of this anachronistic state until its Confederate flag flies only in museums. Period.”
Such commentaries, combined with the receptiveness of Democratic Georgia governor Roy Barnes, triggered enough changes to the state flag in 2001 to spare Georgia from the wrath of both the NFL and the NCAA.
As for the latter, which runs collegiate sports, it declared that if a city is part of a state that officially flies anything resembling the Confederate flag, that city can’t host the NCAA’s Super Bowl, known as the Final Four of basketball, or any of the organization’s championship events involving other sports.
This NRA-Delta thing isn’t about sports, but the concept is the same. Georgia’s current governor is Republican Nathan Deal, and he boasted late last year that tourism in 2016 produced a record $60.8 billion in economic impact for the state.
According to the Delta Airlines website, the company has 33,000 jobs in the Atlanta area and an economic impact of $43.5 billion per year.
The state hopes another 50,000 jobs or so will come from Amazon, which is still deciding whether to place its second headquarters in Atlanta or elsewhere. The Washington Post reported Amazon generates $30 billion for the local economy from its main headquarters in Seattle and another $55 billion in spinoff benefits.
There is that, and then there was Thursday, when those Republicans in the Georgia state Senate followed their House colleagues by voting to yank away a proposed $50 million jet fuel tax exemption from Delta Airlines, one of the state’s largest employers. Deal says he’ll “find a pathway forward” to signing that bill into law. Those lawmakers and the governor are upset that Delta’s bosses dropped a discount for NRA members in the wake of the mass shooting of high school students last month in Parkland, Florida. Delta said only 13 people used the discount. To hear Deal and those lawmakers tell it, they couldn’t care less that Delta has been based in Atlanta since 1941 and has broad economic impact on the state.
You know, for now.
Oh, and get this: Atlanta’s chance of becoming the winning location of Amazon’s HQ2 could also be in jeopardy.
Amazon hasn’t released a statement. But this Delta thing makes high-profile businesses less likely to come to Georgia. If something like lawmakers reneging on a tax break promise can happen to Delta, which is as iconic in this state as red clay, it could be even worse for a newcomer to town, especially since their Atlanta roots would be shallower than those of your average Georgia pine tree.
Still, Delta Airlines’ CEO said in a statement on Friday that “none of this changes the fact that our home is Atlanta and we are proud and honored to locate our headquarters here.”
So let’s give Deal and those Georgia Republican lawmakers a break. Let’s just say they don’t have “NRA” stitched on the side of their pocketbooks, and they really haven’t considered any of this.
I just told them.