Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is trying to finesse the pitch for the state legislature to expand the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s debt ceiling so it can give $300 million to the Atlanta Falcons for a new stadium, and he’s pulling out all the stops from the standard stadium playbook. (As described in Chapter 4 of Field of Schemes, available from finer booksellers near you, or by clicking that big book cover over on the left there.) Let’s run down the list:
- Veiled move threat? Check: “I think it’s important for us to keep the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta.”
- Obsolescence claim? Check: “We do know the existing stadium, even though it looks very good now, within the not too distant future there will be significant repairs and upgrades that will be needed to maintain the current Dome.”
- Two-minute warning? Check: “In talking with the Falcons, they believe this is a time-critical issue.”
And then there’s what looks to have been Deal’s main argument, which is a tough one to characterize, or even to understand:
But the most important thing the governor did today was cast the decision as one that should yield to local – i.e., Atlanta – sentiment. “I think there’s another important fact that sometimes gets over looked,” he said. “The dollars that will be collected and used to pay off the bonds for a new stadium – these are really dollars that belong to the city of Atlanta and Fulton County because they come from their local hotel-motel tax. These are not dollars that flow into the state treasury.”
Okay, so … legislators from the hinterlands should bow to the wishes of those from Atlanta and Fulton County? Given that one of Atlanta’s state senators is the project’s most vocal critic, that might not be the best strategy.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle, meanwhile, has a slightly different quote from Deal that puts another spin on things:
“It is not money that would go into the state treasury, money the General Assembly could approve for education or health care,” he said. “It’s not the state’s money.”
So that’s the old “we can’t use it for anything else, we might as well blow it on a stadium” argument, which isn’t exactly true, since the legislature could vote tomorrow to spend the hotel tax revenue on anything it wants. Taken together, Deal’s statements look to be an attempt at a pincer move: It’s money that can only go for something like a stadium, and if you try to change that to use it for schools you’re taking Atlanta’s money! Not that there’s anything to stop the legislature from, say, taking the tax money and putting it into a fund for Atlanta and Fulton County schools — which would arguably do more for the local economy than a new stadium — but as we’ve seen, with enough misdirection, you can keep people from seeing what you’re actually doing.