Georgia is a state where we measure ourselves by how other people think of us. Gov. Nathan Deal, for example, often mentions that Georgia was rated as “the No. 1 state for business” by cable channel CNBC and a real estate trade publication. He does this to brag about what a great job he’s done as governor.
Two new rankings involving Georgia came out last week. One of them focused on the issue of using public funds to build new stadiums for professional sports teams—such as the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. The business news outlet Marketwatch compiled a list of five localities that are “getting the worst deals from sports teams” for taxpayers. The Braves’ and Falcons’ stadiums are high on that list. Marketwatch noted: “Cobb County will be borrowing $397 million via bonds, including nearly $300 million that will be paid from property taxes, to finance the new SunTrust Park… property taxes that typically go toward roads and schools [were] just handed to a team that left the only home it’s ever known. And they had no way to fight it.”
Marketwatch has given Georgia another high ranking on a national list, although I don’t hear Deal or Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed bragging about it. Reed also wants to give the billionaire owner of the Atlanta Hawks a taxpayer-supported arena. The mayor has indicated Atlanta may contribute as much as $150 million for a new facility even though the current Hawks venue, Philips Arena, is only 16 years old.
Another ranking was released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the causes of disadvantaged children and their families. The foundation produces an annual report called “Kids Count” that ranks states on several factors related to the education, health care, and economic well-being of children. Georgia only ranked No. 40 on that list.
In Georgia, 27 percent of children live in poverty, 33 percent of children have parents without secure employment, 36 percent live in a household with a high housing cost burden, and 10 percent of teens are not in school and not working.
Fifty-two percent of children are not attending pre-school, 66 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, 71 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math, and 30 percent of high school students are not graduating on time.
Georgia has a 9.5 percent rate of low-birth-weight babies, 10 percent of its children don’t have health insurance, there are 28 child and teen deaths per 100,000, and 5 percent of its teens abuse alcohol or drugs.
The state is on track to spend $1 billion or more on new stadiums for the billionaire owners of sports teams. Think of how many teachers could have been hired with that money. Think of how many miles of bad roads could have been repaired. Think of how many doctor’s visits could have been provided for sick children.
Politicians continue to make these questionable policy choices because they know the voters won’t punish them. In the same year that Deal and Reed worked out the financing arrangement for the Falcons’ stadium, Reed was overwhelmingly reelected to a new term as mayor. The following year, Deal was elected to a second term as governor by an eight-point margin. Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who negotiated the secret deal for the Braves stadium, will be on the ballot next year. It will be a big surprise if voters turn against him because of that particular issue.
Whatever the media rankings may be, you can know this: Georgia takes better care of its billionaires than it does of its children. It would be better for the state’s future if those policy priorities were reversed.
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