Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

More public money dumped into stadiums ... why?

So Gov. Nathan Deal has apparently decided that the new Braves stadium being constructed in Cobb County is in need of tens of millions of dollars in additional taxpayer "incentives."

That would be on top of some $300 million in public taxpayer money already being spent on the project, and still more may be coming once Cobb officials announce how they plan to pay for an expensive and as yet unfinanced pedestrian bridge across I-285. Somehow, I expect, a good chunk of that project will be covered by taxpayers as well.

You may ask:

Why does the state of Georgia need to provide "incentives" to a project that was already happening and in fact is underway? It's not as if the project wouldn't have happened without the handout. What plausible public good is advanced by taking tens of millions of dollars that would otherwise go to Georgia schools, roads, colleges and other needs, and instead divert it into the coffers of Liberty Media, a multi-billion-dollar corporation?

"None" would be my answer.

It's not that they need the money. Just last month, Liberty officials were bragging about what a profitable deal they made in purchasing the Braves franchise, which thanks to the stadium deal and other factors is probably worth more than twice what Liberty purchased it for back in 2007. And Liberty's chairman and largest stockholder, John Malone, has a net worth of more than $8 billion.

Call it an educated guess, but I suspect this subsidy has been in the works for a long time, but is only now being made public. When the Braves' move was first announced, Deal promised repeatedly that the deal involved no state financing or subsidies and described his own role as merely that of an "interested observer."  At the time, that stance served to minimize outrage at taxpayer investment in the project and also allowed Deal and the state to stay out of the conflict between Cobb County and the City of Atlanta.

The details of how the subsidy works are pretty interesting as well:

Under the terms of the "Tourism Development Act," the Braves will collect state sales taxes in its Cobb development just as every other business does, as if those taxes were going to the state government. Every hat, beer, meal, ticket, etc., will be taxed.

However, instead of going to the state, the state share of the sales tax will be funneled back to Liberty Media through a tax credit. In effect, visitors will be paying sales taxes to a private entity. That arrangement will continue for 10 years. Over a decade, the law allows up to 25 percent of the cost of the project to be financed with diverted state sales taxes.

In addition, the subsidy is not supposed to be used to finance projects that would compete with existing tourist facilities, such as Turner Field.

And yes, all of this criticism of taxpayer financing of the Braves stadium also applies to the considerable taxpayer contribution being used to build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League, the most prosperous sports league on the planet. There is no reason for taxpayers to be held hostage and forced to finance such stadiums, especially since every study conducted on the question in recent years has found that the public investment is never justified in terms of jobs or additional public revenue.




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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.