Human Behavior

There is definitely no logic to human behavior.

Georgia politicians are played for suckers

John Malone is a very wealthy man. His net worth is estimated at $6.9 billion and he is one of this country’s largest private landowners, holding title to 2.1 million acres of land here and a castle in Ireland.

Arthur Blank is also a very wealthy man. His net worth is estimated at $3.1 billion, largely from money he made as one of the founders of Home Depot.

Tony Ressler isn’t quite as wealthy as Malone and Blank, but he’s close. His net worth is estimated at $1.4 billion.

These three billionaires have a couple of things in common. For one, they own major league sports franchises in Georgia (Malone’s company owns the Atlanta Braves, Blank the Atlanta Falcons, and Ressler the Atlanta Hawks).

For another, they are being showered with tax money from state and local governments: a combined total of nearly one billion dollars.

Cobb County agreed three years to put up nearly $400 million to build a new stadium for the Braves, which persuaded Malone’s company to move the team out of downtown Atlanta.

The City of Atlanta is using hotel-motel tax revenues to put up $200 of the costs of building a new stadium for the Falcons. That tax source will also be used over the next 30 years to pay the operation and maintenance costs of Blank’s stadium, which will amount to a sum estimated at somewhere between $200 million and $250 million.

The state also kicked in $40 million to build a new parking deck for Blank.

Ressler is not being ignored in all this largesse. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced last week that the city will spend $142.5 million to renovate Philips Arena, a basketball venue that was built just 17 years ago for the Hawks.

A rational person would ask why so much tax money is being showered upon billionaires at a time when the state’s middle-income and low-income families have so many unmet needs.

There are 127 public schools that are so bad, Gov. Nathan Deal says the state should take them over. Rural hospitals are shutting down because they don’t have enough funds to stay in operation. Georgia has one of the highest percentages of people without health insurance in the nation.

Atlanta, in particular, has the largest number of schools on that failing school list, and there are unrepaired streets in the city that are so pockmarked with potholes you’ll think you’re driving on a highway through war-torn Somalia.

Why isn’t Reed spending Atlanta’s tax funds on these very fundamental needs instead of diverting the money to build sports palaces for billionaires?

Reed, like every other politician who has ever participated in these giveaways to the wealthy, has the misguided idea that these sports venues will be the key to all sorts of untold riches for the city.

He called the Philips project “another stake in the ground” that will “transform” downtown Atlanta and eventually bring in $1.5 billion in new development.

History tells us that he is wrong. Economists have done study after study of the economic impact of new stadiums and have found that they never live up to what their boosters promise.

“Most evidence suggests that sports subsidies cannot be justified on the grounds of local economic development, income growth, or job creation,” said Alex Gold and Ted Gayer, Brookings Institution. “In fact, after 20 years of academic research on the topic, peer reviewed economics journals contain almost no evidence that sports stadiums or franchises measurably improve local economies.”

If you want proof of this, you need look no farther north than Gwinnett County, where the county commissioners agreed a decade ago to build a minor league baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves organization.

They thought the stadium would draw large crowds and be the spark for new commercial development in the adjoining areas. Instead, the attendance declined over the years and the promises of new development were never fulfilled.

Tim Lee, the county commission chairman who engineered the Cobb County deal with the Braves, was thrown out of office by irate voters. Reed won’t have to worry about that, because he can’t run for another term.

But it really doesn’t matter. When Lee and Reed are departed from the political scene, there will still be new politicians who will insist that we give millions of tax dollars to billionaires who have plenty of money so that they can build stadiums that aren’t needed.

It’s the American way.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

Tags: Kasim Reed , stadium deals , Tim Lee

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