He didn’t give it his endorsement, but Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday laid out some arguments likely to be used by supporters of a new, $1 billion stadium that would serve as a new home for the Atlanta Falcons.
First of all, the governor told my AJC colleague Greg Bluestein that he wants the team to stay put. “I think it’s important for us to keep the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. We are proud of them, and they’ve had a great year, and we’re hoping they’re going to go all the way to the Super Bowl.”
Critics of a new stadium point out that the Georgia Dome is only 20 years old. But the governor said that if a new stadium doesn’t replace it, expensive updates would be required. “We do know the existing stadium, even though it looks very good now, within the not too distant future there will be significant repairs and upgrades that will be needed to maintain the current Dome,” he said.
As he has before, Deal said his involvement in the matter was limited, and refused to say whether he wanted the measure to pass. But the governor again tossed out some strong hints.
“That’s not a judgment call that I make. It is a legislative matter. I certainly think that having a billion-dollar investment, the majority which is private money … is certainly something that is desirable for our state,” the governor said. “I think the city of Atlanta and the mayor in particular share the view that this is critical to the downtown area as well. There are a lot of things at play, but it does come down in very difficult economic times [to] convincing the Legislature … as to whether or not they want to do it.”
But the most important thing the governor did today was cast the decision as one that should yield to local – i.e., Atlanta – sentiment. “I think there’s another important fact that sometimes gets over looked,” he said. “The dollars that will be collected and used to pay off the bonds for a new stadium – these are really dollars that belong to the city of Atlanta and Fulton County because they come from their local hotel-motel tax. These are not dollars that flow into the state treasury.”
Additionally, the governor implied that the issue would be pressed this year, despite the fact that the issue polls dismally. “In talking with the Falcons, they believe this is a time-critical issue,” he said.
As the governor spoke, a Senate committee was engaged in a fast-moving attempt to defuse the explosive “hospital bed tax” issue to fill a Medicaid gap. One long-time lobbyist we spoke to said he never saw such a large issue taken up on only the second day of a session.
Two thoughts on that:
– The new alliance of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate President pro tem David Shafer will probably be never stronger than it is today. That’s one reason for moving quickly, and probably the most important.
– But also consider that, if state lawmakers are allowed to dodge the “bed tax” bullet, they’re more likely to accept the risks attached to a vote approving a rebuilt Georgia Dome.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider