Cobb County may have struck out in its efforts to secure state funding from the Department of Transportation for a bridge to carry pedestrians and a shuttle bus to the new Atlanta Braves’ stadium, but history shows us that county officials have other ways to get state taxpayers to chip in.
And they only have to look to the co-founders of Home Depot for an example.
The parking deck project, estimated to cost $3.5 million, is needed to make the deck stronger before shuttles can drive across the platform and access the bridge, which county officials say will cost $9 million.
While GDOT provided $42 million in grants to the county the DOT balked at the two projects most directly related to the Braves’ new stadium.
It is unclear from where the money will come to pay for the projects — and Cobb County officials wouldn’t discuss the possibilities with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cobb watchdog Dan Klepal.
But the DOT’s refusal doesn’t necessarily end the discussion. Cobb County officials could appeal directly to Gov. Nathan Deal and their local legislators for help. Not saying that will happen, but that has long proven a successful path to get state money for projects throughout metro Atlanta.
Lawmakers routinely approve sales tax breaks for construction projects, from amphitheaters in the northern suburbs to zoo improvements in Atlanta.
Those tax breaks – contained in carefully worded bills with a limited lifespan – are typically sponsored by local lawmakers who want to help out a project in their home county.
Lawmakers have at least twice given sales tax breaks to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ downtown aquarium: once for the original construction and another time for an expansion.
That’s one way to “help” a local project.
The other is through the state’s annual $22 billion budget.
State officials swore a few years back that they weren’t going to put any money into Arthur Blank’s new Atlanta Falcons/Atlanta United football/soccer complex going up next to the 23-year-old Georgia Dome.
But about a week before the Georgia Senate voted on the budget in March of 2014, the World Congress Center Authority sent a letter to legislative leaders mentioning that it could use some money for a parking deck to be used by Falcons/Atlanta United fans.
So $17 million in borrowing was added to the budget by Republican legislative leaders, much to the chagrin of some Democrats who noted that the state wasn’t supposed to be having to spend money on the Falcons stadium. They also weren’t happy to find out about it until the last minute, although that is fairly typical when you are the minority party.
“I guess the political downside of providing largess to the Falcons has subsided, it’s gone away,” said Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. “After 10 years of cutting education … to do $17 million for the Falcons reflects better than anything just how perverse we have become. It is reflection of how misguided our budget process has become.”
Turns out that $17 million was only to get things started. Deal added another $23 million this year, and lawmakers approved it. At least this time it was in the governor’s budget proposal, which came out in January, about two months before lawmakers had to vote on the spending plan.
The state will spend about $72.5 million on the parking deck once the cost of borrowing is factored in.