The REAL Public Contribution to Billion Dollar Stadium

The public has been told repeatedly that Billion Dollar Stadium will only use $200 Million of the public’s money through the Hotel/Motel tax. That figure is misleading. The $200 million number is only for construction costs paid by the City. There are many other ways the public will be contributing money for years to come on the new stadium.

Stadium Funding Small

For starters, according to this law, 39.3% of the Hotel/Motel tax collected through the year 2050 must go to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority specifically for the Georgia Dome or its successor facility. According to this document, 39.3% of the projected Hotel/Motel tax collected through 2050 will be $882,564,382. So while, only $200 million of that $882 million can be spent on construction, the GWCCA and City will be using Hotel/Motel tax money in other ways, as the figure below illustrates.

HM Tax Collections Chart

The City of Atlanta has calculated a differed number for the 39.3% of the hotel/motel tax that will be collected, and we will share their number for the sake of transparency. They estimated that the Hotel/Motel tax will bring in $494,100,000 by 2044. It should be noted though, that their calculation doesn’t figure in any of the growth that the stadium is supposed to bring to Atlanta’s tourism industry. The Hotel/Motel tax will also run through the year 2050, which the City’s figure fails to include.

In addition to the 39.3% of the Hotel/Motel tax funds, Billion Dollar Stadium will also benefit from public money in other ways. There will be $30 million given in construction material tax breaks, $24 million for the use of free state land, and $15 million from Invest Atlanta for community development.

That makes the grand total for the public’s contribution either $951 million according to the GWCCA, or $563 million according to the City of Atlanta. That’s between half a billion to a full billion in public money. Either way it’s much more than the $200 million they’ve been selling us.

This is exactly why we are pushing to let the people decide whether or not they want to contribute this much to Billion Dollar Stadium. If you would like a say in the process please visit www.AtlantaRaiseUp.com

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A bad news day for government

Written by: CCGA Board Member, Terry Taylor

Front Page 5-11My happy weekend mood took a nosedive when I looked at the front page of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday, May 11. Here are the titles for three out of the four stories on that page:

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How to make government pay and other sad stories

Written by: CCGA Board Member, Terry Taylor

Having been in banking and investment management all of my career, I was drawn to the May 8, 2013 Wall Street Journal story titled “Big Banks Push Back Against Tighter Rules.” The article notes that these banks have hired “longtime, influential Washington hands to deflect regulatory and political pressure to strengthen their finances and to sell assets.” Then it mentioned that Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager for Obama in the 2012 election, was hired as a consultant by Bank America to provide “strategic advice,” including how to avoid government efforts to break up big banks.

This is the same Stephanie Cutter who said in a PBS Newshour interview last September, “It wasn’t always politically popular, but it was the right thing to do, from saving the auto industry, or beating back fierce lobbying by the big banks and Wall Street to pass Wall Street reform.”

I guess she’s now not so worried about doing the right thing to beat back fierce lobbying by the big banks. A check is involved, you see.

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Job Opening, with Conditions

This is a recent blog posted by Bill Kraus – Chair of Common Cause Wisconsin since 1995 and Common Cause National Governing Board Member from 2003 to 2007.

Bob Edgar (1943-2013)
Late President of Common Cause

Due to the unhappy, unexpected, too early demise of Common Cause’s national president Bob Edgar, there is a job opening in Washington DC that may be of interest.

Common Cause was founded many decades ago by a Democratic president’s cabinet member who happened to be a Republican. He, like everyone who has ever served in any government anywhere, was acutely aware of the fact that these governments are mostly of, by, and for the interest groups large and small, worthy and less so, powerful and not to whom those we elect are too often beholden.

When he formed Common Cause, he said that the only interest not actively represent in this special interest free for all was the general interest, the people, those who want a government that works for all more than an advantage for any or many of the special interests which may or may not be advantageous for the country. He figured Common Cause would correct this oversight.

Over the years Common Cause has become an institution with its own history and image in Washington and in several but much less than many states.

It differs from other interest organizations in several ways which anyone who is thinking about applying for its top job must consider.

First the good news. Under Bob Edgar’s leadership the organization itself has been rebuilt. It has enough money to run at a viable speed. It has a responsible, reputable board, an excellent staff, and an impossible assignment. Maybe that isn’t really good news, but it needs to be mentioned.

So it’s leader has to be good at the things Bob excelled at, and has to face a few immutable facts. The people whose hands are on the levers of power are mostly annoyed by Common Cause. Nobody likes a nagger. Common Cause nags.

At its best Common Cause nags about things that others ignore or don’t know exist. Things that make our fragile democracy work. The process itself. This makes Common Cause essential. And ineffective.

On the Common Cause shortlist are things like openness and transparency, the extraordinary influence of money in elections, the distortions that assault the elective process like gerrymandering and voting rights and rules.

If any candidate ran on these ideas and issues, he or she probably lost, which is why no candidate who won did.

There is no good government caucus in any legislature that I know of, certainly not in Washington or Madison.

What Bob Edgar knew he had to do next, having cleared the debris from the train wreck he inherited when he took the Common Cause job, was get the process issues on the short agenda of those in power.

What his successor will have to deal with is a very large membership which is composed mostly of old lefties. They dutifully pay their dues. They just as dutifully do not go much beyond doing that. They do not join the organization to be part of a movement. They join the organization so its staff will do the grunt work of pushing, persuading, threatening, and promising that they do not want to do or are no longer able to do.

The other thing Bob’s successor will have to do, and which Bob was in the very early stages of starting to do, is deal with the image that everyone else in and out of power has of the organization.

To put it bluntly Common Cause is regarded as a lapdog of the left. This accounts for the aversion the right has for the organization’s work no matter how worthy. The unhappy other side of the power coin is that when the left wins the majority and stands up to exercise it, the lapdog falls to the floor.

The work of Common Cause, which is widely admired, draws little wind from the recalcitrant Republicans and the duplicitous Democrats who alternatively have the power to do what Common Cause and the unorganized people say they want.

If you want the job or want to nominate someone who wants the job, make sure he or she knows how to keep the money flowing to keep the organization afloat and can take the giant step of de-partisanizing its image so it can become a first step toward putting the people, and their general interest, back into the game.

This, after all, is why Common Cause exists.

Give to the Bob Edgar Legacy Fund

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Top 9 Ethics Bill Loopholes

Although HB 142 does rectify some issues with the ethics laws in Georgia. There are several loopholes that keep the bill from achieving it’s true purpose: ending unlimited giving from lobbyists to legislators.

  1. Lobbyists can split tickets with other lobbyists as long as each only spends $75. (P. 2, Sec. 2, Sub. B.1, Line 42)
  2. Lobbyists can give the same legislator multiple $75 gifts in one day. (P. 2, Sec. 2, Sub. B.1, Line 42)
  3. Lawyers don’t have to register as lobbyists or disclose their spending as long as they are “representing a client.” (P. 10, Sec. 5, Sub. I 4, Line 321)
  4. There is no cap on spending at functions that are open to an entire committee, caucus, or the whole General Assembly. (P. 3, Sec. 2, Sub. D, Line 73)
  5. It is not clear how many cap-exempt group functions a committee can have per year. (P. 3, Sec. 2, Sub. D, Line 73)
  6. There are no restrictions on travel spending as long as it’s in the US and related to “official duties.” (P. 3, Sec. 2, Sub. F, Line 90)
  7. Businesses can give legislators upgrades on things like hotels and flights without disclosing or adhering to the $75 cap. (P. 3, Sec. 2, Sub. C, Line 69)
  8. Legislators only have to reimburse lobbyists for sports, concert, and recreational tickets if the face value is over $75. (P.2, Sec. 2, Sub. C, Line 47)
  9. The law does not go into effect until January 1, 2014 unlike most bills which will be effective July 1, 2013 or upon the Governors signature. (P. 14, Sec. 9, Line 466)
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Robocalls Spur Personal Attack by House Leader

House Majority Leader angrily replies to watchdog’s request for meaningful reform 

In a surprising response to a letter sent to ethics committee conferees requesting consideration of amendments and informing members of advocacy calls to voters in their legislative districts, House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire) tersely attacked me saying:

“Thank you for your incredibly sagacious suggestions. Whoever is paying you off is sure getting their money’s worth. Ps have you gotten your ethics fines settled? Sent from my iPhone” read the email from O’Neal.

I was shocked by his response, I have always thought of him as a gentleman and a statesman. I was clearly wrong. And because our organization believes in full transparency, I feel the public needs to know the attitude that the House Leadership has towards meaningful ethics reform. The message was sent from his official legislative email address, so perhaps a rogue staffer actually wrote the response and sent it, but at any rate, I think an apology is due.

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Could the Billion Dollar Stadium Get A Billion Dollars in Public Money?

New StadiumBelieve it or not, there is a good possibility that the Atlanta City Council may vote on the proposed new stadium on Monday. If true, to call such a fast-track vote irresponsible would be a vast understatement. The two inch-thick plan they were just given Wednesday evening is still in draft form. The exact site for the stadium has not even been selected. Worst of all, the myth that only $200 million of public money is being used for the project, has seemingly saturated the minds of the public due to media reports that have not dug deep enough.

The number, good ladies and gentlemen of the pess and public (as well as Mr. Mayor, Falcons ownership and management, Good Governor and Georgia World Congress Center Management) is not $200 million, let’s try $880 million, and growing!

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Let the people decide!

Photo by: Hyosub Shin of the AJC

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.

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Speaker’s Bill would turn his $17K trip to Europe into a $13K trip – that’s not a gimmick?

House Speaker David Ralston talks about his ethics reform bills Thursday at the Capitol in Atlanta. Photo by: Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

I get accused of not praising the steps the House Leadership has taken toward ethics reform. While I have praised them for offering to restore the rulemaking authority for what use to be known as the State Ethics Commission, requiring disclosure of pre-session campaign contributions, and relieving local elected officials who do not raise any campaign funds of over-burdensome disclosure reporting, such praise falls on deaf ears.

I’m not surprised – such praise likely gets drowned out by the shock-induced noise from those who expected real reform when the Speaker promised a “full ban“. If you actually read all of HB 142 and 143 (not the spin summary produced by leadership), you have to ask, how can they expect praise?  In HB 142, they offer a bill that would still allow most of the Speaker’s $17,000 trip to Europe to remain a possibility. In case you forgot, in November 2010, the Speaker, his wife and kids, his Chief of Staff and his Chief of Staff’s wife went of a $17,000 lobbyist funded junket to Europe to see the impacts of high-speed rail on communities in Germany and the Netherlands (and no legislation, or even a report on the findings of this trip has ever emerged). That trip outraged many (including members of the Speaker’s own caucus, though they will never admit it publically), and served as the inspiration for calls to end Georgia’s status as one of only three states in the nation that allows for completely unlimited spending by lobbyists on gifts to legislators.

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Speaker Ralston’s Bad Toupee Bill

“More of a sun visor than a cap,” is how Georgia House Speaker David Ralston described the Senate’s Rule limiting gifts from lobbyists to $100. He is so critical because of the exceptions the rule allows. He pledged to write something stronger; to enact “real change.”

Well, yesterday we witnessed round two from the House Subcommittee on Ethics, which voted on substitute language for Ralston’s ethics bill after public outcry about some of its weaknesses forced them to knock it off the fast-track.

They still have not produced what the Speaker said he would introduce months ago – “a complete ban”. If we stick to head gear, and the Speaker thinks the Senate cap is a  visor, then I have to declare his ban a toupee – it’s a fake ban because of the exceptions it allows. It is no where near a “complete ban” of gifts from lobbyists to legislators. Continue reading

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