ATLANTA — In the late hours of the last day of the Georgia legislative session, House lawmakers tacked on a provision to an otherwise standard bill to begin taxing jet fuel.
The bill did not make it past the Senate but it was clear that GOP lawmakers were hitting back against one of Georgia’s largest corporations, Delta, after it came out against the controversial elections overhaul.
Voting rights advocates have called for boycotting some of Georgia’s largest companies including Delta and Coca-Cola after they say the Atlanta-based corporations didn’t do enough to oppose the measure.
After earlier watered-down statements on Georgia’s new voting laws, the CEOs of both Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola made a startling reversal Wednesday and slammed the bill.
In a memo to employees, Delta CEO Ed Bastian called the bill “based on a lie” and “unacceptable.” He said the measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp does not align with the company’s "values.”
"After having time to now fully understand all that is in the bill, coupled with discussions with leaders and employees in the Black community, it’s evident that the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives,” Bastian wrote. "That is wrong.”
Coca-Cola Chief Executive Officer James Quincey made similar statements on CNBC on Wednesday.
The admissions took Republican state leaders and lawmakers by surprise. Rumors began circulating on whether or not lawmakers would punish Delta in the final hours of the legislative session. At about 11 p.m. Wednesday, one hour before chambers would gavel out, House lawmakers narrowly passed a bill to end the consequential tax break on jet fuel.
Moultrie Republican Rep. Sam Watson announced the change casually while presenting the bill.
"Also the final piece is we're going to start taxing jet fuel after July 1st, 2021," he said.
The measure never came up in the Senate, but House Speaker David Ralston was not shy to reporters about the message they intended to send. Ralston said Delta’s criticism of the new laws “came out of the blue” and were “disappointing.”
"Some of the the language in there, I thought, reflected a complete lack of understanding of the bill,” he said of Bastian’s memo. “So when I rest up a little bit, I'm going to call, my friend Ed Bastion and find out if he's going to suspend flights into states that have more restrictive voting rights than we do.”
Ralston said he also thought comments from the Coca-Cola chief executive “went too far” and joked he’d be drinking Pepsi products from now on.
“They like our public policy when we're doing things that benefit them,” he added. “So they reap the reward of that benefit and then turn around and do this.”
Gov. Brian Kemp also pushed back that state officials had been in touch with Delta throughout the legislative process and Bastian did not raise opposition to provisions in the final bill.
"Today's statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists,” Kemp said.