Lawmakers go to bat for Delta

ATLANTA - Georgia's top legislative leaders came to the defense of embattled Delta airlines Monday in the Atlanta-based carrier's fight against a hostile takeover bid.

Eight Republican leaders from the House and Senate signed a letter asking U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to conduct a thorough review before passing judgment on U.S. Airways' attempt to seize control of Delta, which filed for bankruptcy in September 2005.

They were joined in the letter by four Democratic legislators representing districts near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where many Delta employees live.

"We don't think it's good for Georgia, the United States or airlines in general,'' House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, said during a news conference.

In the letter, Richardson, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle - the Senate's presiding officer - and the other legislative leaders argue that the proposed takeover of Delta would hurt Georgia's economy by eliminating jobs, reducing the number of flights into and out of Georgia and hiking fares.

U.S. Airways launched the hostile takeover bid last November with an offer of $8.5 billion, then upped the ante nearly two weeks ago to $10.3 billion.

Delta officials have rebuffed the bid, maintaining that the company can right its financial ship and emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as an independent airline.

Cagle said he and other the legislative leaders stand behind Delta's determination to go it alone.

"I'm confident in this team,'' he said. "They have a strategy that will spell success.''

The lawmakers were joined at Monday's news conference by Ed Bastian, Delta's chief financial officer.

He said the U.S. Airways takeover bid also would create a huge debt load, the highest of any airline, a point also made in the letter.

"We've been there before,'' Bastian said, referring to the financial travails that led to Delta's bankruptcy filing. "We don't need to go back.''

Delta and its creditors face a Feb. 1 deadline to accept or reject the latest offer from Tempe, Ariz.-based U.S. Airways.

Bastian said Delta's board of directors hasn't made a final determination on whether the company will take the deal.

Later on Monday, House Speaker Pro Tempore Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta, urged his legislative colleagues to sign a resolution opposing the hostile takeover.

During a brief speech on the House floor, he said Georgia could lose up to 8,000 jobs if U.S. Airways moves Delta's corporate offices to Arizona.

"(Delta) is the very reason we have grown in Georgia,'' he said.