One of the trickiest parts of understanding the stadium game is figuring out the tricky finances used by team owners (and local elected officials on their behalf) to fund new buildings. This is intentional: In a world where handing over a $300 million check from the public treasury to a private sports team is considered gauche (or at least likely to get you tarred and feathered by constituents), it’s important to have a convincing cover story claiming that, no, it’s not really a public subsidy.
For Cobb County, part of that cover story has been that taking $8.6 million a year in existing sales-tax surcharges and devoting it to a new Atlanta Braves stadium doesn’t really cost taxpayers anything, because they were going to be paying the tax anyway. Except that some people, including reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, have noticed that the tax was originally approved in 2006 so that Cobb County could buy parkland, and voters there specifically authorized bonds to buy parkland in a 2008 vote, but instead Cobb County sat on the money and is now using it for a stadium:
After the successful 2006 referendum, which resulted in the purchase of 387 acres, voters went back to the polls and approved a second parks bond referendum in 2008. Although the measure passed with 67 percent of voters’ approval, the county commission never issued those bonds and no additional green space was ever purchased.
Jim Dugan served on the Cobb Parks Coalition, which worked to get parks referendum on ballots, and then served on the committee that evaluated undeveloped land for possible purchase. Dugan said the county has a moral obligation to either take the tax rate off the books or dedicate the revenue for more parks, in fulfillment of the 2008 vote.
Bah, “moral obligations.” How many divisions have they got?
Roger Buerki, who served on the committee that identified parks purchases in 2006, likewise called the sales-tax redirection a “sleight of hand” and “unseemly,” adding: “The commissioners might want to see an audiologist. They hear the Braves just fine, but they don’t hear the voters.” You say that like it’s a bug, Roger, but it’s really a feature.