By BEN NADLER, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — While running in the GOP primary for Georgia governor, Brian Kemp was “unequivocally opposed” to a proposed sales tax exemption on jet fuel that would have saved Delta Air Lines, one of the state’s largest employers, millions of dollars per year.
Now as the Republican nominee for Georgia governor, Kemp said he supports “economic incentives that generate a sizable return on investment” and that suspending the state’s sales tax on jet fuel appeared to be just that.
That change in tone has critics accusing Kemp of being disingenuous. But some experts see the move as a way to appeal to Georgia’s business community in an attempt to unite the Republican Party after a divisive primary.
The tax break became a major issue in the governor’s race in February, when then front-runner in the GOP primary Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle effectively killed the proposed tax break on jet fuel to punish Delta for ending a discount program for members of the National Rifle Association.
Kemp ended up defeating Cagle in a primary runoff July 24.
When the fuel tax issue came before the state legislature months ago, Kemp slammed Delta and the tax break in a statement and called for the money to instead be used for a tax holiday on gun purchases.
“Now, it’s time for the Georgia Senate to kill the tax break for Delta and replace it with a sales tax holiday that benefits the same 2nd Amendment supporters that Delta — and other corporate cowards — are publicly shaming,” Kemp said in a statement Feb. 27.
On Monday the tax break surfaced anew in the political fray when Republican Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order suspending collection of the state’s 4 percent sales tax on jet fuel. Deal said the order “will help us maintain our competitive advantage as a global hub for commerce now and in the future.”
Deal had previously backed Cagle in the GOP primary, but endorsed Kemp after his runoff victory.
Kemp said in reaction to the order that he trusted Deal and that the state could only have one governor at a time.
“I support economic incentives that generate a sizable return on investment for Georgia taxpayers and create economic opportunities for communities throughout our state. Based on the information provided, the Governor’s Executive Order aims to do both,” Kemp said in a statement.
DuBose Porter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, called Kemp a “flip-flopper” on the issue and said Kemp was running away from his previous statements.
“If Brian Kemp can’t even stay consistent with his own positions, what will he stay consistent on?” Porter said in a statement to The Associated Press.
But Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said that Kemp’s position had been consistent, and that he wants to review all tax breaks to ensure they are providing a strong return on investment. Mahoney said that new information about the “economic impact” of the tax cut had come to light, but did not specify what information he was referring to.
Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said he sees Kemp’s shift as an offering to Georgia’s business community after the bruising Republican primary.
“Much of the business community that gives to Republican candidates was behind Casey Cagle, and so I think Kemp sees value in saying to the Atlanta and the statewide business community: ‘I am going to help you, not hurt you,'” Swint said.
Kemp’s Democratic opponent in the race for governor, Stacey Abrams, avoided mentioning Kemp in a statement addressing the governor’s order. She said that she supported “smart tax investments that help strengthen the economy of Georgia and build a state where all families have the freedom and opportunity to thrive.”
The Georgia legislature could reinstate the tax when it reconvenes for the 2019 legislative session in January.