The Atlanta Braves have announced that in 2017, they plan to move to a new stadium in Cobb County. They explained that upgrades to Turner Field would cost $150 million, whereas the new stadium will cost $672 million. So why would the Braves spend an extra HALF-BILLION dollars?
The answer: because it's not THEIR money they're spending. It's the money of Cobb County taxpayers. It seems that the Braves have been engaged in confidential negotiations with Cobb County officials, and Cobb County has agreed to finance no less than $300 MILLION of the cost of the new stadium, with the Braves paying only $200 million.
Cobb County citizens have every reason to be outraged at this. Cobb voters will be given NO vote on the spending of this money, an amount equal to 37% of an entire year's budget for Cobb County. Rather, the financing package (the details of which are, naturally, not even public yet) is scheduled for "final approval" at the Cobb Board of Commissioners' meeting on November 26. Can Cobb citizens expect their commissioners to actually vote with their constituents' best interests, as opposed to the special interests of a professional sports team?
Because in terms of what's best for Cobb taxpayers, there's no legitimate dispute: public financing of stadiums is a bad idea for the public. Sports economists almost UNIVERSALLY agree that public financing is a waste of taxpayer money. See http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB121625362443460331 , http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/11/atlanta-braves-new-stadium-terrible-deal-cobb-county/71469/ , http://www.fieldofschemes.com/2013/04/01/4822/nine-out-of-ten-economists-agree-sports-stadium-subsidies-are-dumb/ , and especially http://econjwatch.org/articles/do-economists-reach-a-conclusion-on-subsidies-for-sports-franchises-stadiums-and-mega-events .
And the money being wasted (again, nearly a half-billion dollars) represents a massive opportunity cost for Cobb County. Imagine what good that much money could do, on multiple projects across years, instead of providing corporate welfare to fund a limited-use playground for a for-profit sports business. Every dollar spent on the stadium is a dollar that could have been spent on schools, or parks, or roads, or economic development, or anything else.
By announcing this new stadium as if it were a done deal, and by scheduling only a single, unpromoted commission meeting for all debate and approval of this taxpayer-funded largesse, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners and the Atlanta Braves are obviously hoping to fool the public into believing that the money is already committed and there's no room for real discussion. Perhaps the Commissioners have already been promised enough complimentary season tickets that the hearing on November 26 is just a formality.
But there are still two weeks to have our voices heard. Two weeks to tell those Cobb Commissioners that as taxpayers, we're sick of being stuck paying hundreds of millions of dollars for professional sports stadiums. Two weeks to tell the Atlanta Braves that if they really want to move out of Turner Field, they're free to do so...so long as they don't expect the taxpayers to foot the bill. Two weeks to save a half-billion dollars, which could fund so many good and worthwhile projects, rather than underwrite a single replacement sports arena.
For years, professional sports teams have exploited public financing to boost their profits while taxpayers suffer the costs. Just earlier this year, the City of Atlanta agreed to pay over $200 million to build a replacement football stadium for a billionaire. It's long past time to draw the line, to tell the NFL and the MLB and their ilk that when they want to abandon 20-year-old stadiums, they don't need to come looking to the taxpayers to pick up the check.