Delta's fuel tax exemption was removed Wednesday from the omnibus tax bill slated to be voted on by the state Senate today.
The measure, House Bill 918, includes an income tax break for Georgia residents and businesses — and nullifies the increase that would result from the federal tax reform legislation.
"It will pass," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R- Rome, with confidence.
The amended bill would then return to the House for another vote and, if accepted, head to the governor's desk. The fuel tax break was a major factor in Gov. Nathan Deal's support and his floor leader, Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville, declined to predict the bill's final fate.
"I'm unsure at this time," he said during questioning by members of the Senate Rules standing committee.
Hufstetler, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, appeared with Martin to present the new version of the bill. Any changes would normally go through his committee first, but he said the Rules subcommittee also has the authority.
"Legislative counsel said this was a mechanism to get it done without sending it back," Hufstetler said.
He previously described passage of the bill as "urgent," since Georgians are filing their income tax returns now and their state tax bills are slated to skyrocket due to changes in the federal tax code.
HB 918 addresses that unintended consequence by doubling the standard deduction and cutting the top bracket to 5.75 percent from 6 percent. A further reduction to 5.5 percent is scheduled for 2020 as long as revenues don't tank.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other Republican lawmakers called for eliminating Delta's tax break after the airline severed its relationship with the National Rifle Association. Hufstetler said the exemption for jet fuel — a loss of $35 million a year — wasn't popular to begin with.
"I wasn't in favor of it, but it was important to me that the overall package pass with the first tax cut in state history," he said. "I lost support for it when this came up."
Delta is headquartered at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, but several states have made overtures to the company suggesting a move. The governors of New York and Virginia, and mayors of St. Louis, Birmingham and Minneapolis — the location of Delta's second-largest hub — all tweeted their interest.
Hufstetler said he's not worried about the potential loss of jobs.
"Delta just signed a 20-year agreement with the Atlanta airport. They enjoy tremendous benefits they can't get anywhere else. I doubt they will move," he said.
Martin said the only change to the bill passed by the House is the removal of all the language referencing the fuel tax exemption. However, Floyd County's representatives weren't ready to make a firm commitment Wednesday. "I have to see what comes to the floor," said Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville. "I have not given any thought to that because we are in the throes of Crossover Day."
Wednesday was the deadline for legislation to pass at least one chamber or be declared dead.