At some point, a conversation we were never allowed to hear, took place between Arthur Blank and Atlanta’s Mayor, Kasim Reed. A few other conversations we never heard took place between Reed and some city council members.
Other quiet conversations – between Reed and state legislators, Reed’s staff and the Governor’s office, city council people and construction contractors, state legislators and stadium marketers – lead to this: an announcement. A pronouncement. A done deal. A “compromise,” in the sense that appearing to use slightly somewhat fewer millions in public money is a compromise when the public would prefer an amount of zero.
They have decided. But we have not.
The public deserves a referendum on stadium spending.
The voice of the citizen has gone unheard in these quiet conversations. The appropriate volume for discussion about spending more than $350 million in public funds on a sports stadium, while vital public services go underfunded, should be intensely loud – rock concert loud – instead of the librarian’s shhhh. Everyone’s voice should count equally in this decision, not just the backroom deal makers, because the public’s money and interest is deeply at stake.
Make no mistake; there will be more than $350 million in public spending on a new stadium if the deal as presented is adopted. A simple analysis by long-time Atlanta business writer Maria Saporta lays out how it was structured in the last agreement with the state, and it still remains in the current deal, as you can see here. All the money collected for the dedicated percentage of the hotel/motel tax will go to funding the stadium, this amount is NOT capped. Here’s Saporta’s report.
“Now here is where it gets interesting. Under the GWCCA-Falcons agreement, if the hotel-motel tax generated more than the estimated $300 million, the excess taxes would go into a ‘waterfall’ fund that would go to pay for other debt on the project, or go into a refurbishment and maintenance reserve account, or go into a fund for capital improvements.
“So whether the state provides $200 million or $300 million in bonding capacity, the amount of hotel-motel taxes collected remains the same. In other words, it does not mean that over the life of the project the Atlanta Falcons would be putting in another $100 million into the stadium project. All surplus hotel-motel taxes would still be invested in the stadium development.”
This is on top of the $50 in sales tax breaks the state will give to the construction companies, and the yet to be determined infrastructure costs for roads, bridges, sidewalks, etc. surrounding the project – which could come at the expense of Atlanta taxpayers, but more on that later.
Blank, Reed and Deal are displaying an old-school negotiating ploy. They’re counting on the public to accept the anchoring effect of a high initial number – $300 million in public funding. It’s a strategy. When then presented with a number one-third lower, people are more likely to view it as a fair compromise without examining the details very closely … or aggressively questioning whether any public money should be spent at all. The team then perversely gets to present itself as the heroic defenders of the public purse.
Now back to infrastructure – there are still key questions to be answered about the $50 million Blank has offered for infrastructure improvements. the first question being – is it enough? Reed has even said he can’t answer that until the deal is done! Some have said infrastructure costs could be as high a $250 million.
This – THIS – is why a referendum on agreements like this is so vital. Only then will backroom dealmakers like this have to make their case fairly to the people. So we say – let the people decide!