Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

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Cobb County Braves: A Bad Deal For Commuters & Taxpayers

by Bill Simon

There’s an analogy that keeps popping-up in my mind with regards to the Cobb County Commission and the Atlanta Braves deal, so bear with me a moment while I appear to go off on a tangent (but trust me, there’s a purpose in this little story).

I recall an episode of Seinfeld in which Cosmo Kramer went to the movies with a large cup of hot coffee jammed into his pants. Sure enough, he slipped, fell, and burned his nether regions. He got a lawyer to take his case to sue the maker of the coffee for making it too hot. When it came time to a settlement being offered by the Big Deep-Pockets Corporation (the “BDPC”), the scene before the lawyer and Kramer step into the room is that BDPC will offer $50,000 and free coffee to Kramer for life.

First thing out of the mouth of the BDPC side was “We are prepared to offer you free coffee at any of our stores in America for life…PLUS…” and right after the “PLUS”, Kramer jumps up and says “I’ll take it!”…thus not bothering to 1) hear the entire offer, and 2) negotiate a better deal.

Well, in this Cobb-Braves deal, Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee is this county’s Cosmo Kramer. I’m going to lay 5:1 odds that the moment State Rep. Earl Ehrhart called Tim Lee to introduce him to the Braves’ team that Tim Lee’s instant thought in his head was “YES! Whatever they want, we’ll agree to it!”

And, so, as more of the talks occurred, and Tim Lee got more and more excited, he was ready to agree to ANYTHING to get the Braves to come to his county, regardless of the cost to the residents and stakeholders of the county and state.

Two people I know have written some very good pieces regarding both the traffic issues and the financing of the deal: Ron Sifen has a piece in the Marietta Daily Journal that objectively looks at several of the traffic issues. Hopefully, the other 4 members of the county commission will read it with a thoughtful eye to the issues he brings-up.

The 2nd article was written by Joel Aaron Foster of the Georgia chapter of Americans for Prosperity, in which Joel brings-up the taxpayer’s point of view on the financing of the deal. Another good read that I hope the other 4 commissioners will take the time to consider.

I’m excluding Cosmo Lee from this discussion because Cosmo Lee has demonstrated that he thinks the taxpayers are stupid, and they will agree with him that when taxpayers pay-off the county parks bond in 2017, that the county should just continue to take that $26 per year and “reallocate” it to pay for the Braves stadium…as though that $26 is HIS to “reallocate” from taxpayers’ wallets WITHOUT our approval or consent.

I believe that “reallocation” may actually be unconstitutional since the voters approved of the parks bond by VOTING for it. Once its paid-off, the commission cannot merely fabricate a new bond/financial obligation out of thin air and continue to take money from us. AND we are not getting a vote in the Braves deal. So, that claim is a crock of bull, and someone WILL sue on behalf of the taxpayers if that illegal confiscation of taxpayer dollars is attempted in 2017.

Now, you will hear commissioners talk about “diverging diamond” interchanges, I-285 improvements, BRT, etc. All those were planned BEFORE this Braves concept. They were based on traffic-prediction models that did not include an extra 30,000 cars dumped into the traffic stream coming-up or down I-75, across 285 from either I-20 or from I-85, starting at 4:30 in the afternoon, did they?

I don’t think Ron Sifen’s solution of making the night game start at 7:35 PM as opposed to 7:05 is going to make a lot of difference in when that 30,000 dump of cars streaming to the game occurs. You are not going to be able to control when people start their journey, except to know this: Traffic in and out of the Kennedy Interchange (the 285, 75, Windy Hill Road interchange) now requires people coming from Gwinnett or downtown Atlanta about 1.5 hours on a GOOD night to get back to their Cobb homes.

What you will not hear about (from commissioners who rarely trek-up and down I-75 in afternoon commute traffic, or across the top-end of 285 to return to Cobb County from work) is the amount of time AND hassle the addition of the Braves “event complex” at the corner of I-285 and I-75 will add to the lives of many Cobb residents on game days and game nights.

For 30 years, Cobb residents will have to consider what frickin’ day it is, and whether the Braves are playing in a home game (whether or not we actually care about the game…I know, it’s a shocker to the Braves that not everyone cares about them playing as much as they do, but it’s true), in order to figure-out what route we have to take in order to allow for the amount of time it will take us to travel through the Kennedy Interchange to get to our appointments. That will be an INCREDIBLY inconvenient hassle to deal with.

The fact that Tim Lee is lying right now about how the county will pay for the stadium (via an unconstitutional appropriation of our money), along with the incredible cost in commute time and inconvenience to Cobb Countians, there cannot be any public money given to a private corporation for what is, truly, primarily their financial benefit.

The Braves’ have all the money they need available in their $26+ million in advertising they will earn. (It’s there because the Braves generate about $26 million annually as per this Forbes.com article here…take the $923 million generated by all 30 teams, divide by 30, and give a 15% discount because the Braves are not top tier in advertising attraction…and you get $26.15 million net to the Braves’ franchise as of this 2011 article…and that dollar amount will only increase from here).

Also…keep this fact in mind: No county commission can promise anything to taxpayers beyond their current term. There will be a tax increase shoved onto county residents to pay for this stadium, especially when 2017 rolls around and then the county legal department will speak-up and say “Oh…you can’t just ‘reallocate’ that money that was voted-on by the taxpayers to pay for the parks bond…”

And then that county commission in 2017 (whoever is sitting on it then) will have to force a raise in taxes to pay for the 30-year obligation signed by the commissioners who vote for it in a week and a half present-day.

Don’t let Cosmo Kramer steer this deal…he has no freakin’ clue as to how to negotiate on behalf of the taxpayers. Here’s the beginning of the deal that should be negotiated on behalf of the taxpayers, the majority of whom don’t care about the Braves as much as Kramer and Earl Ehrhart think they should:

1) NO public financing from the residential taxpayers or other business taxpayers of Cobb County. IF the Cumberland CID wants to commit their funds, then the Braves had better indemnify the Cobb County taxpayers from having to pay for ANY default from the CCID or the Cobb Galleria Authority entity, or business sales taxes that are not generated, or whatever all the other entities are that are involved in the financing. You indemnify us by taking-out an insurance policy and having the Braves pay for that policy on an annual basis that pays-off any deficiency.

2) The taxpayers are NOT on the hook for the “capital maintenance” funds. The Braves have to act like every other business out there: Generate funds from your own operations to pay for your own capital maintenance, or get credit from a bank to do so (surely Kessel Stelling has a bridge loan he’ll be happy to offer the Braves, right? Yes, yes, certainly he does.)

3) Because it will cost Cobb County commuters an additional hour (at minimum) on game nights (and days…because, 30,000 cars being dumped into the traffic stream at 5:00 PM after a game is over is just as bad as 30,000 cars streaming to a 7:30 PM game), and directly cause daily commuters to suffer hardship away from their families due to the extra commute time…I propose that the Braves offer a deal to every single Cobb County resident who can show proof of residency (via either a driver’s license or a property tax bill with a picture ID): 50% off the game-day ticket to attend the game for the 30 years that Cobb County residents have to suffer the PITA (Pain In The Ass) traffic headaches we will have to suffer through.

Now, I propose that “sweetener” as someone who does not really care about the Braves myself (I know, another shocker to the fabric of Cobb County society that not everyone loves to spend time at a Braves game), and will likely never attend a game anyway.

BUT..if the county commits to bringing the Braves here, I predict that this will be the very last large “deal” that the Cobb Economic Development folks at the Cobb Chamber will be able to attract. Because, no traffic improvements (unless you magically double-deck I-285) will ever be enough to take the load of commuting cars PLUS Game-Day traffic and allow for any normal semblance of commute time for people to live and work in Cobb County. What company would want to move their HQ here with traffic like that?

So, the county commission had better negotiate something to directly benefit those taxpayers who will have to suffer traffic hell for 30 years to compensate them for their time spent in “Traffic Nightmare in Cobb County” (which is the headline that will be written on the day after the first night game is played at the new Braves stadium).

And, the next day’s headline in 2017 will be “How much were Cobb County Commissioners paid-off to approve stadium deal in 2013?”

No public funds from either county residential property owners or current business owners outside the CCID, and 50% off game-day tickets for county residents should smooth things out for taxpayers to swallow the big headache of having to deal with the traffic headaches. These two stipulations, at minimum, should be the counter-offer from the Commission.

And, don’t give us excuses about having to vote on this the night of the Braves’ dog and pony show presentation before the Board of Commissioners on November 26th. It is not the taxpayers’ problem that Mayor Kasim Reed found out about the Braves’ intention to move, and exposed the negotiations and put the Braves in some sort of “quandary.”

The Braves being in a quandary is their business problem, not the Cobb County taxpayers’ problem, nor the Cobb Board of Commissioners’ problem. (It’s called the tough-sh*t rule of business, Commissioners, and you cannot make us taxpayers suffer for someone else’s mistakes by taking any offer Kramer thinks is “good.”)

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Today's Deep Thought

When I was a child, there were times when we had to entertain ourselves. And usually the best way to do that was to turn on the TV.



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