Friday, May 30, 2014

Fiscal Responsibility, Cobb County Style

Never let it be said that baseball let the other sports push it around when it came time to grab the stupid share of the headlines.

At a moment when the season is in full swing, when a guy has hit 16 home runs in a month for the first place Toronto Blue Jays (think about that for a minute), when we've got tight races and rising stars like George Springer and the ever-entertaining Yasiel Puig show is on every night, the Atlanta Braves have to go and jam their spikes in their collective mouth.
Mind you, you can't really blame them. The prospect of getting a couple of hundred million dollars in public money for a poorly thought out stadium to be planted at one of the worst intersections for traffic in the United States where the Braves' financial obligations are, if you read the fine print, kind of more of a suggestion, well, that would make anyone giddy.

(Seriously. The early plans have the stadium pointed in the wrong direction.)

Which, I suppose, is why Braves' president John Schuerholz felt comfortable telling a reporter that it was a good thing the stadium deal was negotiated in secret, because God forbid anyone in the public got a look at this thing and they might have started asking questions like "Are you serious?" and "Who thinks it's a good idea to pull $392M out of the county budget to give to a media conglomerate based in Colorado?" and "Why are we budgeting $10M for traffic improvements when every sane estimate says they're going to run $150M+ because tearing up two major interstates is not cheap?" and "Why does it say the Braves don't actually have to come through on their side of the business co-development around the stadium that is theoretically going to prevent the area from turning into a wasteland of empty parking lots most days of the year?" and "How come all the desirable real estate around the stadium site got snapped up before the deal was announced?"*

But, hey, no need to worry about that. Because since the stadium deal wasn't adding any new taxes - they're pulling from existing revenues - there was no legal need to put it to a vote. And the details of the county commissioners' vote - all of them "let's get the community involved and stop government waste" types, apparently - were released at 6 PM on the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend. And the discussion before the vote was limited to 12 community members, all of whom appeared to be plants by the pro-stadium side who were able to line up 3 hours before the meeting on a work day to ensure they filled all the available slots. And that people against the stadium were, in some cases, marched out by security for heinous crimes like "asking for more speaker slots since the damn thing was obviously rigged".

Now maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe having a baseball stadium set up so that the sun blinds batters on a regular basis will be a good thing. Maybe a thousand retail flowers will bloom in the area around the new parking lots. Maybe the traffic issues will magically resolve themselves, and the increased economic activity will somehow return that $300M investment and more to the county budget.

But deals where they have to stack the deck to get them done rarely work out in the public interest. Deals where the beneficiary's responsibilities are written on tissue paper rarely see positive results. And deals where they have to get put together in secret or else the people footing the bill might have something to say about it, well, I know what would happen if I tried that at home, and that's as regards an XBoxOne, not a $392M stadium. 

So in ten years, when the stadium is a crushing financial burden for the good citizens - who, it must be noted, voted the raging yahoos who cut the deal into office - of Cobb County and the traffic is a nightmare and the area around the park is a wasteland of broiling asphalt most of the year and there's no end in sight to the "cost overruns" that magically appeared once shovel hit dirt and Braves players are missing games because the traffic's backed up to the Grady  Curve starting at noon ahead of a 7:05 PM first pitch, well, no doubt there will be demands for another new stadium, or more capital improvements, or something. Because that's how the game is played.

*One of the arguments for the Cobb stadium site has been that there is absolutely nothing around Turner Field in downtown Atlanta. This is true. There is also anecdotal evidence suggesting that the reason there is nothing but parking lots near the Ted is that Braves muscled out ever establishment that wanted to go in around there, on the theory that they didn't want to offer fans the opportunity to get food and/or beer outside the park, instead of from the concession stands inside.
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