Note to Matt Ryan: No pressure, and thanks for the 6-0 start. But you and your teammates would be doing your boss a great service if the Falcons were still in the Super Bowl hunt come January.
Arthur Blank will need every advantage he can muster in the state Capitol this winter if he wants that new $1 billion stadium with the retractable roof.
After the quiet 2010 passage of legislation necessary to partially fund the enterprise — by extending Fulton County’s hotel-motel tax until 2050 — the idea was to keep the project away from lawmakers.
The problem? The hotel-motel tax is expected to contribute $300 million to the new stadium. But the bonding capacity for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which operates the Georgia Dome and would oversee the new facility, is capped at $200 million.
To raise that cap, and allow the GWCCA to issue bonds on the entire $300 million, would require an act of the Legislature, topped off by the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal.
“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode until the World Congress Center and the Falcons complete their negotiations,” said Edward Lindsey, the House majority whip and the highest-ranking Atlanta lawmaker in the General Assembly. “Until we know what the deal looks like, it’s hard for us to speculate as to what we may be doing.”
But Lindsey admits it is “very likely” that the GWCCA bonding cap will have to be raised.
And that means 236 state lawmakers will be asked to pass judgment on the merits of any funding package agreed to by the Falcons, the GWCCA and the city of Atlanta.
The prospect already has many state lawmakers running for cover. And it will surely test the strength of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s remarkable relationship with the Capitol’s Republican leadership.
There are political arguments to be made in favor of the enterprise. A hotel-motel tax is paid primarily by tourists who don’t vote, and the money raised from the levy can’t be shifted to any other purpose — education, for instance. Further, through the World Congress Center, the state has a 35-year history of supporting — some would say underwriting — Atlanta’s convention-entertainment industry and, for the past 20 years in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons.
Construction of a new stadium would almost certainly generate much-needed jobs among metro Atlanta’s hardhats.
And yet the optics are difficult.
Dedicating public monies of any sort to a home for gladiators is a hard argument to make when teachers and state troopers are being laid off. It is especially difficult for a Republican-dominated Legislature that has given up on Keynesian economics and believes in austerity as strongly as it believes in salvation through baptism. (With scriptural exceptions for certain automotive and biotech plants, of course. And the Port of Savannah.)
Comparisons are already being drawn to this summer’s failed transportation sales tax vote, which most Republicans came to view as radioactive — leaving the mayor of Atlanta as the campaign’s primary spokesman, shouldering much of the risk.
Like the T-SPLOST, a state Capitol fight over a Falcons stadium could also unite right and left. This summer, state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, paired with tea party conservatives to oppose the sales tax. The Falcons stadium could provide an opportunity for a reunion.
“I’m not convinced that stadiums bring the economic development that their advocates say they do,” Fort said recently.
Late this summer, Invest Atlanta — the city’s economic development arm — began soliciting ideas for the development of 55 acres north of Turner Field. “Mixed-use proposals should be designed to provide 10,000 parking spaces, enhance the fan experience, support the creation of a vibrant urban neighborhood and support the Atlanta Braves’ business enterprise,” the request declared.
The project has the timely advantage of meeting Fort’s objections and persuading the Braves that they’re not being ignored.
Actually, the vast majority of lawmakers in the Capitol are on record in support of an increase of the lending cap for the GWCCA — and thus the construction of the new Falcons stadium.
The language was snuck into Senate Bill 140, which passed in the final hours of last year’s legislative session. The governor vetoed the bill, citing the sneakiness of the tactic.
We’re told that Deal will not stand in the way of legislation for a new Falcons stadium next year — but will also have to be convinced that it will not add to the state’s debt burden.
After we chatted last week, Lindsey — the House Republican whip — emailed a written list of his concerns that would have to be met in order for a new Falcons stadium to win his support. One of the most important was that the state would assume no financial obligations, directly or indirectly.
“Looking back,” he wrote, “I believe the governor was right two years ago to veto the original bond authorization without seeing a final deal in place. In these difficult economic times, we need to make doubly sure that any project is economically sound.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider