Most people believe that some taxation is necessary to pay for the necessary functions of government. Therein lies the rub: what are those functions? Is it to help pay for a new baseball stadium which exists for the sole purpose of entertainment? Is it to help underwrite the financial investment of a multi-billion dollar corporation in order to reduce its financial risk? If your answer is no to these questions, then you understand that the deal struck between the owners of the Braves and Cobb County extends way beyond the proper bounds of government, which would deny it the right to confiscate wealth from the many to give to the few; a very, very wealthy few.
For example, the chairman of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, has a net worth of almost $7 billion. Yet his company wants to put taxpayers on the hook for $300 million, not including interest. If he was to write a check for that amount out of his own pocket, he wouldn’t even miss it. But the average taxpayer, who would be forced to foot the bill, would. They would miss it in the form of higher prices when they shop at the Cumberland Mall, or when they rent a car in Cobb County, or pay for lodging at hotels and motels in Cobb. And most egregious of all, they would pay for it in the form of higher property taxes. This is because under the memorandum of understanding negotiated between the Braves and Cobb County, park bonds that are set to expire in 2017, would be extended another 30 years. In essence, this deal is Robin Hood in reverse, with the rich and well positioned few stealing from the many.
But what about all the economic growth and development touted by supporters of the deal? It is claimed that new restaurants and retail shops will be built adjacent to the stadium, making it a 365 days a year tourist destination. Imagine that? During the 280 or so days a year when there is no game being played, people will flock to the area just to shop, eat and drink. Well, how has that worked out for the neighborhoods surrounding Turner Field? Ditto Yankee Stadium and a whole slew of other sports venues that have relied on public financing.
Besides, where the new stadium would be located is right next to the Cumberland Mall which already has a plethora of shops, stores, restaurants, bars and nearby hotels. What makes supporters think that there will be enough consumer demand to support additional development? While that might work in a Hollywood fantasy, and that all taxpayers have to do is build it and they will come, it is just that: a fantasy that will not likely pass muster in the marketplace.
While few would object to the Braves moving to Cobb on their own dime, a major bone of contention is asking taxpayers to pay 45% of it. If it is a viable business proposition, let Liberty Media pay for it with private equity. There is lots of that out there right now. Just look at the Dow Industrial.
And Cobb taxpayers are rightly incensed at the lack of transparency and opportunity for them to have a say on whether or not they support the deal. In less than two weeks after the details of the deal were made public, the Cobb Board of Commissioners are scheduled to vote on it. That is by design. The deal makers know that time is not on their side, so they need to ram it down our throats before we have a chance to mobilize against it. Their failure to win voter approval of their Transportation SPLOST last year is a painful reminder to them of what happens when the people are allowed to have a direct voice.
Bottom line is that this a wild pitch thrown directly at the heads of taxpayers, and they need to let the commissioners know there will be repercussions in the voting booth should they allow that to happen.
Lance Lamberton is the chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association. This article originally appeared in the AJC and is reprinted with the permission of the author.