Cobb County, Georgia, is proposing to close or consolidate eight public libraries to save money in the midst of a budget crunch, and Deadspin has blamed this on the county spending $369 million on a new Atlanta Braves stadium. Is this a fair accusation? Let’s turn to our old friend math!
- Property tax levies are up, but the county still faces a $30-55 million budget deficit.
- Cobb County is spending at least $8.6 million a year out of its general fund on stadium construction and operations costs.
- The county could try to raise more money by, say, increasing hotel and car rental taxes, except it already did that for the Braves stadium, and is likely approaching blood from a stone territory.
Verdict: The stadium isn’t the only reason Cobb County residents are going to have a harder time finding books to read — as Deadspin notes, former county commission chair Tim Lee also cut taxes (I think he cut millage rates, so while property tax valuations are up, actual revenues are down, but I have a cold and don’t have the patience for the googling it would take to piece this together from media reports, so feel free to correct me in the comments if I got this wrong) — but it sure ain’t helping.
I’ll sometimes get criticism for being skeptical of all plans that involve spending a whole lot of public money on stadiums and coming out ahead because “economic impact,” but there’s a reason for that: When you start in a several hundred million dollar hole, it’s damn near impossible to climb out of that thanks to whatever money trickles in from new spending. Sure, in a best-case scenario you steal some consumer spending from neighboring jurisdictions, and the “multiplier effect” of money recirculating in the local economy isn’t mythical, just overblown. (Especially when most of the money never enters the local economy because it goes to athletes and owners who live and spend out of town.) But you’re counting on pennies to pay off dollars, and that’s never a good business plan — whether it’s for stadiums or for movie shoots.
Anyway, Cobb County is hosed, but we knew that already. Just set this one aside for the next time anyone says, “It’s not like this stadium money would be going to fund schools or libraries otherwise!”, because sometimes — oftentimes — that’s exactly what it means.