All signs point to Cobb County’s commissioners voting Tuesday to approve spending some $600 million in public funds over the next 30 years to subsidize a new stadium for the Atlanta Braves.
That figure is twice as much as the up-front cost that’s usually reported. But the math is simple: $24 million to start, plus $17.9 million annually for 30 years (total: $537 million), plus half of the $65 million in capital improvements already projected to be made down the road.
Throw in a couple of surprises, and who knows how high the tab will grow between now and mid-century?
At a Thursday town hall meeting in southwestern Marietta, a great many of those who bothered, or were recruited, to show up voiced a complete lack of concern at this prospect. Their refrain, interrupted only intermittently by a relative smattering of boos, went: Development, bringing in a new business, creating a “Cobb Home of the Braves” — all this is a “home run.”
As someone who lives, works, votes and, for the most part, shops outside Cobb, far be it for me to try to persuade them otherwise. Time will tell if they are right. But if anyone else wonders how to think about these things, here are a few suggestions:
“Free enterprise” doesn’t mean the public giving enterprises stuff for free (or half-free).
Being “pro-business” usually results in being for a particular business. Those who support creating the right conditions for all businesses should instead call themselves, and support policies which are, “pro-market.”
The closer to the people a level of government is, the better argument it has for spending the people’s money to create those conditions (on infrastructure, schools and so on). But, too, the more likely it is to have to squeeze the people, through reduced services or higher taxes, if big expenditures don’t turn out as well as planned. The margin for error is smaller.
Related: Properly defined, a “public-private partnership” is one in which private dollars are leveraged chiefly to achieve a public benefit, not vice versa.
Just because people or businesses are willing to tax themselves for a certain purpose doesn’t mean that’s the best use of the money. Alternatives may not be visible or knowable, but they always exist. Often, the unseen or unknown would have become something much better.
The economic benefits of big public projects are almost always overstated. That goes just as much for the ones you happen to support as for the ones you happen to oppose.
If being a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard!) about something one would normally support makes one a hypocrite — think people who want windmills, or solar panels, or new roads, as long as they’re built near someone else — being a SIMBY (Solely in My Back Yard!) about something one would criticize if done elsewhere — like, hypothetically of course, a taxpayer-financed stadium — just might do the same.
If your mother had occasion to tell you, “Haste makes waste,” it probably wasn’t when you were being meticulously methodical, or open to other opinions. If deadlines will be tight, perhaps elected officials shouldn’t wait until the last possible moment to let the public know about their grand plans.
Finally: Always, always count on politicians to remember these principles during election campaigns and forget them in between.