Legislators Disingenuous On New Stadium, T-SPLOST

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Land for a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons was stripped from next year’s budget by legislators before it was sent to the Governor for his signature. The $10 Million requested in the Governor’s plan had become a bit much for legislators tired of answering questions about the stadium’s need and its budgetary priority.

The $10 Million was a relative sweetener for an already rich deal, and is unlikely to halt progress on separating Georgians from $400 Million of their tax dollars. The simple fact that many Georgians do not understand is that the enabling legislation for this gift was passed by the 2010 legislature. Amid a backdrop of scandals with House leadership, the legislature pushed an extension of Atlanta’s hotel/motel tax out until 2050.

Legislators, including leadership, are responding to concerns of diverting nearly a half billion dollars available for infrastructure improvements into a stadium which will duplicate the services of the Georgia Dome which is expected to remain next door. Their answer is frankly disingenuous. They flatly state that “they will not support any proposal brought to them to authorize a new stadium.” They say this hoping you are not aware that the funding is already authorized.

Barring legislative action, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority has the ability to donate $400 Million of your tax dollars to one of Georgia’s wealthiest citizens. Your gift in return? You will be able to watch a Superbowl once in the next 10 years from your home and see some local sights on television. The legislators who look the other way as this deal continues to progress will likely be able to score a free ticket to sit inside should they still be in a position of power.

And as for the $10 Million for land? That can likely re-appear quietly in the future. It’s not like the Atlanta Housing Authority must sell it next week, or that the state doesn’t have mechanisms to make relatively small purchases. Just last month the state received about $100 Million from a legal settlement with mortgage servicers to be used to benefit solutions for Georgia’s housing problem.

The money was instead directed to the rainy day fund. It should be fairly easy to make it rain at the appropriate time to benefit housing the Falcons in an open air stadium. This will likely have to wait until after July’s T-SPLOST tax votes, however.

The $400 Million of hotel/motel tax money would generate $720 Million worth of transit projects if redirected to needs identified by State and regional leaders as critical, must have projects vital to the region’s future. It could pay for the MARTA rail extension through South DeKalb to Stonecrest Mall. DeKalb County’s NAACP Chairman has said he will actively work against the T-SPLOST passage in Atlanta if South DeKalb rail is not included. Hopefully, South DeKalb residents will enjoy taking a bus to the new stadium 8 days per year just as much as they would like a direct rail commute into Atlanta every day.

In an earlier column on this subject, I unfavorably compared Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank’s half billion dollar shakedown to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ charitable gift which brought Atlanta the Georgia Aquarium. A note from Blank’s PR firm objected, noting that Blank’s “investment” in the stadium should be compared favorably to Marcus’ donation for the aquarium. It takes a good bit of chutzpah to hope that the reader won’t notice that a charitable gift with no financial return is quite different from an investment where one expects a sizable return – a return that depends on your scarce tax dollars.

The simple fact of the matter is this: Georgians are about to be subjected to a massive PR campaign to convince us that if we do not vote to raise our own taxes, Atlanta faces becoming a second tier city with respect to economic development and quality of life. The presumption of this campaign is that there are no additional monies available to handle this critical infrastructure spending. Arthur Blank will be holding a reception next week to raise money for the effort. Checks from $1,000 to $250,000 will be accepted if you feel compelled to contribute.

Yet Georgia has already cleared a path to give away money that would represent $720 Million of infrastructure if used appropriately – more than 10 percent of the total Atlanta region project list. Instead, that money will be used not to advance economic development, but to bring Atlanta a Superbowl. Once.

If the legislature wants voters to take emergency pleas for tax increases seriously, it should first demonstrate good stewardship of existing revenue sources. Giving away nearly a half billion tax dollars to stroke a billionaire’s ego instead of addressing priorities is alone enough reason to vote no on T-SPLOST. Telling those that ask that they will oppose a request for a stadium knowing full well that their approval is not needed is a dereliction of duty, and a mockery of taxpayers’ valid concerns.

There are a few short days remaining of this legislative session. The Georgia General Assembly must take proactive action to stop taxpayer funds from building a new stadium. Anything less makes the public pleas for tax increases via referendum a cynical ploy to increase the size and scope of government.

20 comments

  1. CobbGOPer says:

    “If the legislature wants voters to take emergency pleas for tax increases seriously, it should first demonstrate good stewardship of existing revenue sources.”

    This is the crux. These guys at the Gold Dome, and the long list of corporate interests in T-SPLOST, think that the reason their polls say Georgians are generally against the measure is because we’re just stupid. We don’t understand the gravity of the situation (despite the fact that we all sit in the awful traffic everyday and it’s kind of hard to miss), they think. This could not be further from the truth.

    We understand that our transportation needs are legion, that we have a lot to do as a state and as individual counties and cities to address the problem. We understand that will take money, taxpayer money. But when we’re faced with blatant disregard by politicians for how our taxpayer dollars are spent or accounted for, then yes we’re going to be skeptical and cynical of these efforts.

    I’ve been saying this for months: it’s not that we don’t want transportation reform/upgrades, we just don’t trust the Gold Dome with the money to do it. No amount of PR ‘education’ is going to change that fact. That will only change with action – and hopefully some primary challengers.

  2. Cassandra says:

    Of this, I would not bet: No amount of PR ‘education’ is going to change that fact. That will only change with action – and hopefully some primary challengers.”

    The effort will be profound and in a summer referendum, I believe have a greater chance of passing than you might think. The community behind the tax, developers, real estate, builders, pro-business interests are all urging their folks to get on board.

    If you don’t live in FULCO or DeKalb, you lose the indignation of paying double.

    “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” say some supporters.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      And I’m saying it’s not a matter of whether the transportation spending is needed – it is – it’s a matter of many in the public having no trust in the legislators doing the spending. We don’t trust that they will fairly spend the money and not just funnel it to their high-dollar supporters.

      We want the work done. We’re willing even to spend the money on it. We just don’t want it all to go to the wallets of Don Balfour, David Ralston, Chip Rogers, Nathan Deal’s cronies.

      Unfortunately, the only way that will happen is if we remove said politicians, and many more.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        “We want the work done. We’re willing even to spend the money on it. We just don’t want it all to go to the wallets of Don Balfour, David Ralston, Chip Rogers, Nathan Deal’s cronies……Unfortunately, the only way that will happen is if we remove said politicians, and many more.”

        The only problem with removing said politicians is that there are at least 100 more that would be more than ready to replace them and do the same or worse.

        It’s not that those politicians are inherently personally corrupt, it’s the power they hold and command that corrupts them, which means that you could take any average Joe (0r Jane for you overly PC types), put him in the same position and get the same results, which is the corruption that arises when major corporations and their lobbyist proxies becomes their best friend and throws tons of money and gifts their way because of the immense power they possess and what they are in position to do for them with even larger sums of taxpayer monies.

      • Cassandra says:

        Those are some mighty tall charges there, Tex.

        So your idea is to replace the men you mention with new, better and more honest men?

        WoW! I don’t think anyone has ever thought of that before.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        “I’ll chip in for their bus fare! Where can we send them?”

        We can send them to the same place that every multimillionaire or billionaire NFL owner threatens to move to when throwing a temper tantrum over failure to get a publicly-funded billion-dollar clubhouse for his private investment when there are numerous other much less pressing needs that the money is being wasted on (schools, infrastructure, public safety, etc):

        Los Angeles, baby!

  3. Big Tuna says:

    It seems folks here are in agreement something must be done about transportation and are even conceding it is going to take tax dollars to do it. I don’t understand how much more accountability some of you people want. There is a project list and the money can only be spent on those projects. When will the insanity stop?

    • Harry says:

      Take the toll off 400 and I may start to believe the list is real – not that I would vote for what’s on it in any case. The transportation nomenklatura of this state are not to be believed.

    • CobbGOPer says:

      We know the money will be spent on those projects. It’s the companies that will be hired to complete the projects we have a problem with. It’s the inevitable ‘cost overruns’ we are concerned about. It’s the fact that because of cronyism these projects are all going to cost us more than they should. That’s why we’re hacked off.

      • Big Tuna says:

        It is my understanding that the project estimates were made as conservatively as possible. Is there an anticipation of cost overruns, yes it will occur on some. Is there an anticipation of projects coming in under budget, absolutely. I don’t know about cronyism, but who else would be hired to do the work? Georgia companies employing Georgia citizens or folks from out of state?

        Everyone has a vote, and if you want to maintain status quo, then we can keep doing less work with declining revenues operating on a broken model where projects are chosen by a cadre of nameless or faceless bureaucrats and political power brokers. Or we can try something that has never been done before and lay everything out for the public to see ahead of time where I would submit the accountability will be at an all time high.

        • CobbGOPer says:

          “…where I would submit the accountability will be at an all time high.”

          You must be new to Georgia.

          And yes I want Georgia companies doing the business, I just don’t want said company to be owned by the Governor’s daughter, Speaker Ralston’s hunting buddy, or Don Balfour’s biggest donor. Which will inevitably be the case when all is said and done.

          • Big Tuna says:

            CobbGOPer, my suggestion that accountability would be an all time high doesn’t insinuate that the bar is set high to begin with. Perhaps transparency would be the better term.

    • rrrrr says:

      When tax dollars stop funding venues that are NOT used year around for PRIVATE businesses
      thatr could do it themselves. Let some NFL high flyers buy a bond or 2…

  4. ZazaPachulia says:

    Some of your finest work, Charlie. This should be all over the state’s bigger papers. AJC, Telegraph, Ledger-Inquirer and Savannah Morning News take note.

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