By Alana Wise
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Georgia state legislators on Thursday struck down what would have been a lucrative tax exemption for hometown carrier Delta Air Lines <DAL.N>, after vowing to punish the airline for ending its relationship with the National Rifle Association.
Led by a Republican majority, state lawmakers passed a tax bill that excludes a jet fuel tax exemption designed to benefit Delta, the state's largest private employer. It was the most significant blowback yet after the carrier said last week it was cutting ties with the NRA following a Florida school massacre.
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Delta said it was ending a discount program for NRA members and had asked the gun rights group to remove its information from the group's website after the Feb. 14 slaying of 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland. The killings reignited the long-running U.S. debate over gun ownership laws
Delta did not respond to a request on Thursday for comment about the Georgia tax bill. In a statement on Saturday, the carrier said it supports the Second Amendment, which grants Americans the right to bear arms, and that it wished to stay neutral in the emotionally charged debate.
Georgia Republicans had criticized the airline's move to cut its ties to the NRA. They were led by Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, president of the state senate, who vowed to kill any tax legislation that benefited Delta. The bill that passed the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate on Thursday had previously included tax exemption language that had been projected to save Delta some $40 million a year in jet fuel tax.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal had on Wednesday criticized the decision to exclude the exemption as "the type of antics that tend to plague election years," but said he would still sign the bill after it passed.
Cagle is running to succeed Deal in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race. Deal said he remained committed to eliminating Georgia's sales tax on jet fuel, "which is non-negotiable."
(Reporting by Alana Wise; Editing by Daniel Wallis)