That scenario is roughly analogous to where Lee finds himself this weekend in his effort to lock up a deal that would bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County for the next 30 years.
Lee is predicting a unanimous vote by his commission on whether to green-light the deal to bring the Braves here. That vote is slated to take place Nov. 26.
Setting aside for a moment the questions of whether Lee will be able to get those votes, and the question of whether the move makes economic sense, let’s look at whether the deal makes political sense for those who must make the decision.
AS THIS was written, Lee and Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham were on record as strongly supporting it. JoAnn Birrell appears to be leaning toward supporting the project based on a generic email reply Thursday afternoon from her county account, stating, “Based on the information I have seen thus far, this is a positive move forward for the economic development of Cobb County.” East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott has expressed both support and reservation for the stadium in his district and Southwest Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid was considered the vote Lee was least likely to get.
Lee does not have to face voters until 2016, a year before the stadium is due to open. At the moment there is tremendous euphoria in much of the county over the announcement. The deal is structured in ways that avoid a direct property tax increase for those outside the Cumberland/Galleria area. So opposition is likely to hinge on three factors:
• Whether the public perceives as “a tax increase” the proposal to extend for an additional 30 years the parks bond taxes now due to expire in 2017 and 2018. The bonds total 0.33 mills worth of debt service, equivalent to $26 a year on the owner of a $100,000 house. Lee and stadium supporters argue it is a “continuation” of a voter-approved tax, not a new tax or a tax increase;
• Whether the county will take adequate measures to mitigate the stadium’s impact on traffic in the already congested I-75/285/Cobb Parkway corridor;
• And whether Lee and his commission are transparent and have given the public sufficient time to digest the funding proposal, which has more moving parts than a Porsche engine.
LEE TOOK A LEAD ROLE in trying to persuade the public to support the 2012 TSPLOST referendum, which would have levied a 1 percent sales tax to fund transit improvements (initially planned as rail, then amended to bus) up the I-75 corridor to Cobb from Atlanta, and which was creamed by voters 2-1. He surely is finding selling the Braves move much easier: Just look at the map released by the Braves showing where their ticket buyers originate.
But will we see the Braves move swamped by a repeat of the tidal wave of anti-tax opposition that engulfed the TSPLOST? Probably not. The taxes for this proposal are targeted in focus, rather than an across-the-board sales tax. Many tax opponents are also Braves fans and will be happy not to have to drive to Turner Field on southside Atlanta. And the less-than-two-week time frame is much more compressed that the summer-long campaign for and against the TSPLOST.
The political calculus is also intriguing for Mayor Kasim Reed and Ott. Sources confirm that several of Reed’s key supporters had to remind Reed that any future statewide race would require Reed to win votes in the critical suburbs, including Cobb, which would explain Reed’s apparent change in tone the day after the announcement, when he stated, “We are not losing anything. The Braves are still in the region so I don’t fee like this is a loss.” However, reading between the lines of his remarks Tuesday, Reed subtly attached toxic buzz words to the Braves deal by mentioning the $450 million (turning out to be $300 million) price tag “liberal” Cobb Countains would pay and that Cobb should expect light rail to follow the Braves to Cobb. No doubt Reed hoped to drum up the same sentiment that torpedoed the transit heavy TSPLOST in 2012.
AT has also has been informed that downtown Atlanta political and business interests have targeted Ott as a political pawn in their plan to try and delay the vote, giving Reed and others time to kill the move. Sources report political operatives have been hired to manipulate the tea party and other conservative activists to try and pressure Ott to delay or vote against the deal Nov. 26.
Gov. Nathan Deal, however, read the political tea leaves correctly this week and quickly expressed his clear conviction about the Braves move and he was “glad they are going to stay in Georgia” shortly after a meeting with Reed.
ON THE OTHER HAND, Lee has, completely unexpectedly, maneuvered Cobb into position to spirit away one of downtown Atlanta’s trademarks. It’s as stunning a turn of events as if Reed had announced that his city had purchased and was moving The Big Chicken.
And while the Braves deal has more zeroes, the proposal is certainly less one-sided than many of the development deals offered by states and communities to lure business and industry in recent decades.
Support for the TSPLOST pretty much evaporated once it moved beyond the Cobb Chamber and the Cumberland Improvement District in the Galleria area. Not so with the Braves. They are a true Georgia icon, and as the aforementioned map proves, Cobb County is the very heart of their fan base. Moreover, the TSPLOST would have reached into the pocket of every voter, whereas the tax hit from Braves deal would mostly touch only those close to the stadium, and is about as close to a sure-fire economic stimulator as there is.
At this juncture, the public is not expected to have an opportunity to vote directly on whether to approve the Braves deal. But it’s entirely possible that if they were given a chance to be heard via such a referendum that they would approve it — and do so by a decisive margin.
Late Friday evening, a poll was released by Georgia based Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone Communications showing the majority of Cobb residents support the Braves move to Cobb by a margin of 57 percent to 29 percent. President of Landmark, Mark Rountree, noted, “From a political point of view, Republicans support the move even more than Democrats. Sixty-three percent of Republicans support the move while only 47 percent of Democrats say they do. This might provide political cover to that county’s Republican elected leadership who may have to work with economic development incentives.”
Synovus Chair and CEO Kessel Stelling of east Cobb rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday as part of his bank’s 125th anniversary celebration. Stelling, who represents the 6th Congressional District (east Cobb) on the state Board of Regents, was a no-show for Tuesday’s meeting at which the Regents voted to approve the controversial merger of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University, and has declined to answer calls from MDJ reporters since the merger story broke early this month.