Liberty’s chairman, John Malone, has a personal net worth of nearly $7 billion and his company has a market cap of almost $17 billion. Liberty Media stock closed at $146 per share the other day.
The fabulously wealthy Mr. Malone wants us Cobb County rubes to give him $300 million, 45 percent of the cost for a new Braves stadium. Malone could stroke a check for $300 million himself, but he’d rather you do it, the taxpayers of a county where the mean household income is $47,000.
Incredibly, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners is on the verge of handing over that $300 million to this multi-billionaire so his multi-millionaire employees can play baseball here.
The behind the scenes deal-making between the Cobb commissioners, Liberty Media, and the Braves has been described as “swift and stealthy” - sort of like a shell game.
As often happens, some are luckier than others in such games of chance. For example, Scott & Associates, the Atlanta real estate investment firm, had the remarkable good fortune to purchase Circle 75 Office Park right next door to the proposed stadium just a couple of weeks before the Braves-Cobb County deal was announced.
“This is another example of the good ol’ boys getting rich and the taxpayers getting the shaft,” Atlanta Tea Party co-chair Debbie Dooley told the Associated Press. I’d add some good ol’ boys may also have an eye on free skyboxes.
Not only is this an astonishing corporate giveaway, the proposed stadium location is atrocious.
Imagine sitting in I-75’s normal traffic congestion one hot July Friday evening. Now add 35,000 fans from all over metro Atlanta arriving by car for a 7:30 Braves game. Nightmare doesn’t begin to describe the scenario for Cobb County commuters irrespective of any proposed highway improvements.
Unless they rise up and demand otherwise, Cobb County taxpayers have only one opportunity to weigh in when the commission meets to approve the stadium deal Nov. 26. That’s two days before Thanksgiving when many of us are already headed off to grandma’s for turkey.
Did somebody say stealthy?
Speaking of turkeys, the commission says the $300 million will come from new hotel and rental car taxes, a new tax on owners of commercial property within the Cumberland Community Improvement District, and the 30-year extension of the parks bond taxes set to expire in 2017 and 2018.
“The .33 mills is what I need to make the deal happen financially, and I’m not postponing it,” Commission Chairman Tim Lee defiantly told the MDJ.
Shouldn’t such a huge expenditure of county tax dollars be subject to public hearings?
“I don’t know that having a public hearing would add to the objective of getting more input since we’ve got a lot of input to date,” Lee told an interviewer.
What input? The stadium deal was unveiled only last week.
“Just five months ago, an $86 million budget deficit forced (the Cobb County School Board to cut) 182 teachers and forced mandatory furlough for the rest, but the money simply wasn’t there” writes Loren Collins at the 300millionreasons.com website. “And yet, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners seems to have discovered $300 million in its couch seat cushions…”
Cobb County doesn’t need the Braves. It does need better schools, more and better-paid teachers, major infrastructure improvements, and quality, high-paying jobs, not part-time peanut vendor positions.
So what’s the big rush? The Braves aren’t going anywhere.
Lee and the commission need to slow down, make their case at town halls after the holidays, and listen to taxpayers.
Kevin Foley owns a PR company in Kennesaw.