SunTrust Park, the Braves’ fancy new suburban stadium, came at a cost of nearly $400 million to Cobb County taxpayers. It doesn’t open until next year, but that bill is already coming due—and the opportunity cost is no longer theoretical.
In 2008, Cobb County approved $40 million to buy up land for public parks, in an attempt to meet the national standard. Residents were all for it—they approved the bond measure with 65 percent voting yes in a referendum. But that money hasn’t materialized, even after county commissioners somehow found hundreds of millions to fund the Braves’ ballpark—a move that they made sure wouldn’t come to a public vote.
(One commissioner said no vote was held because they didn’t want to pay $300,000 for a special election to decide the fate of $400 million.)
So: plenty of cash for the Braves, without the public getting a say. No cash for public parks, which the public overwhelmingly voted for. And now Commission Chairman Tim Lee says, via Field of Schemes, that the county will need to increase taxes if residents want those parks.
The Braves’ ballpark is already a new low in the sordid game of publicly financed stadiums, but maybe this can be an instructive moment. Every time a city or county funds a stadium through hotel taxes or by dipping into a general fund, local politicians and team cheerleaders proudly say that residents won’t see their own taxes go up. This is a damned lie.
Not only does putting public money toward a stadium take away money that could actually go to the public good (SunTrust Park was approved at a time Cobb County schools were desperately slashing budgets), but the general fund is no longer there to prop up existing and future bonds, forcing taxes to be raised to pay off those debts.
“Cobb County homeowners will not see their taxes go up one penny” to fund the Braves’ stadium, according to the FAQ on CobbHomeOfTheBraves.com, an astroturfed website supporting the stadium. Well, Cobb County homeowners will see their taxes go up to pay for everything else that the county can no longer afford because it gave $400 million to a billionaire.
CobbHomeOfTheBraves.com is also urging readers to re-elect Commission Chairman Tim Lee, architect of the stadium financing deal, in a runoff election next month.