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Cobb County Charlatans

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I don’t live in Atlanta and don’t deserve any credibility to comment on the new Cobb County stadium story.

But in the wake of details released Thursday about how Cobb County plans on paying for their portion of the deal, I can’t help but feel a twinge of pain. The most upsetting detail is that over the course of the 30-year plan, Cobb County will reallocate $8.67 million per year in existing property taxes to pay for the stadium.

This is, in no uncertain terms, corporate welfare to enrich the Atlanta Braves organization at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars in local services. Cobb County citizens should brace for even deeper cuts to their already struggling school system, fire and police services, and other activities that regular citizens depend on whether they want a professional sports team or not. And, perhaps most outrageously, this will all go down without a public vote.

It’s not the most preposterous waste of money I could imagine from a local government. I live in Tucson, a sleepy desert town that generally minds its own business and asks you to do the same. However, Tucsonans have a bitter spot in their heart thanks to the disastrous Rio Nuevo project and the more recent boondoggle “Modern Streetcar” project, a pair of quarter-billion dollar city development plans that have lined the pockets of out-of-town developers.
The alleged revitalization comes at the expense of a struggling local construction industry (some of the largest contracting bids were awarded to out of state firms) and resulted in many local businesses shutting down due to the torn up sidewalks and resulting depression of local traffic.

Tucson was deeply impacted by the housing bubble, and really isn’t anywhere near recovering. Road improvements are restrained to the point where they are almost mythical. We have potholes that Tolkien could have written about at great length. Many public teachers work on one-year contracts, and those with specialist training are the first to be let go because they’re the most expensive to retain.

Tucson Police Department is expected to lose 100 jobs before next year. A superficial facsimile of either San Francisco streetcar charm or eco-friendly public transport isn’t going to make up for these precious losses. We could use a few hundred million dollars right now. This is why I’m upset about the new Braves stadium deal. A county outside of Atlanta is going to start dealing with these same, avoidable problems.

I’ve always known that there was much about Atlanta that I didn’t understand and couldn’t ever hope to experience as an outsider. Southern culture is beautiful and perplexing to me, from the language to the cuisine. I don’t understand what it means to be in Atlanta for more than a weekend, to deal with the legendary traffic, or to try to live and work and raise a family in the area. I’m one of those fans that Atlanta locals probably mock, a kid that started watching the Braves because they were on national TV while I didn’t have a local team to pull for and was learning how to play the game.

But it is upsetting to me to hear about this type of public fleecing, and I didn’t think I’d ever be forced to consider it on behalf of my favorite team and the cornerstone of my childhood. It is of course a sweetheart of a deal for the Braves that they’d be insane to not accept. And as a fan of the Braves, this is a positive development that should help field a winning team into the future. But the deal doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is going to have human consequences.

This appears to be a decision made by Cobb County officials, without a vote from the rest of the citizenry, that they think is going to pay for itself and help the local economy. The spin will deceptively say that the majority of residents won’t see any change in their tax bill. But those millions are coming out of existing budgets at the expense of critical assets. If an exchange of police officers and teachers for professional baseball is indeed the will of Cobb County citizens… well, I’ll just consider it another cultural quirk I’m unlikely to ever understand.


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