TALLAHASSEE — Gun-rights Republicans in the Florida House are starting to punish Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Delta Airlines after the corporations severed ties with the National Rifle Association.
Over the past 24 hours, Florida lawmakers, borrowing from counterparts in Georgia, have targeted an aviation fuel tax reduction benefiting Delta and proposed late night budget language to rebid a state rental car contract held by Enterprise. The Enterprise contract is not set to expire until September 2020.
“We would do this to any company that wants to engage in political speech, whether it’s Enterprise or Planned Parenthood,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), who added the Enterprise Rent-A-Car language Thursday night in House General Government Appropriations Committee deliberations.
“Anyone can engage in political speech,” said Ingoglia, who also doubles as the Republican Party of Florida chairman. “But we have a duty to watch and make sure government money doesn’t underwrite it.”
The companies declined to comment through their lobbyists in Tallahassee.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said she was not involved in the matter, but said she backed it. “Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to benefit businesses who discriminate against a segment of the taxpayers,” she said.
In the Florida Senate, lawmakers haven’t retaliated against NRA critics as they have in the House, which is led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is likely to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He did not return a call for comment. Privately, one Republican familiar with the budget maneuvers described them as a minor gift to the NRA, which opposes a new bill with gun control proposed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla.
The Florida fight over the fuel tax spilled onto the House floor Friday afternoon as Democrats publicly questioned a sweeping amendment to the chamber’s $400 million tax package. Buried in that amendment: language that axes a proposal to lower the tax airlines pay for gas from 4.2 to 2.8 cent per gallon. The provision is worth roughly $20 million annually.
The Florida House action came a day after their fellow Republicans in Georgia’s legislature passed a tax reform package without a break sought by Delta Airlines, which is based in Atlanta. But when questioned by Florida Democrats, state Rep. Paul Renner, a Jacksonville Republican sponsoring the tax bill, denied that his amendment was inspired by Georgia when pressed by lawmakers during floor questions.
“This is not the purpose of this amendment,” said Renner, a likely House Speaker for the term, beginning in 2022. “I’ve not talked to the NRA, and that is not the purpose of this amendment.”
State Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa), who is running for attorney general, echoed other Democrats by taking to Twitter in defense of Delta after the floor fight over the tax cut.
“There is no shame in the Florida Legislature,” Shaw wrote. “Even in the midst of tragedy, they found time today to punish Delta for standing up to the @NRA. Their hypocrisy & contempt for the citizens & employers of our state knows no bounds. #NeverAgain”
The provision targeting Enterprise was done more subtly. Ingoglia slipped it in a House budget document plan Thursday night as lawmakers pressed forward with final talks.
Ingoglia is chairman of the House Committee that writes the budget for the Florida Department of Management Services, the entity that handles state contracting. It would give that department, which is part of Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, $20,000 to “competitively procure rental vehicle services.”
The Senate has not yet agreed to the proposal. The budget is now before the top House and Senate budget writers.
Senate budget chief Rob Bradley did not return a message seeking comment, but earlier in the day he said the Senate is not linking guns and the budget.
The issue of gun and school safety reforms have taken over the last few weeks of Florida’s legislative session. The House and Senate have each proposed omnibus $400 million legislative packages in response to the Stoneman Douglas mass shooting. The proposals, among other things, boost the legal age to buy a military-style semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21, and puts in place a three-day waiting period for those same weapons.
Both chambers had planned to give the proposals floor consideration Friday, but were delayed as legislative leaders whip votes and try to gauge whether the governor would veto the plan. One of its main provisions would create a program to train and arm school staff, a program Scott opposes. The gun control measures coupled with the prospect of arming teachers has created a some in both parties voting “no.”
That includes Ingoglia, who opposes raising the age limit to 21.
State Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who also opposed the proposals, said the issue has roiled some members who fear that a vote for the bill could end their political careers.
“The frustration for me is our job is to protect our members, not expose them to political liabilities,” he said. “And there were ways to get to the outcome that’s important to leadership without putting your own member in a position of political risk.”