In March, the Atlanta city council approved a deal that will give the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons $200 million in public money to build a new stadium to replace the two-decade-old venue they call home now. A month later, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings secured $258 million in public financing from taxpayers there after spending years threatening to find a new home if they didn’t get the new arena they wanted. Now, with both agreements clearing various hurdles and on their way to construction, taxpayers in both cities are asking for a chance to vote on whether their money should go toward the projects.
Common Cause Georgia, a nonpartisan citizens group, has to gain 35,000 signatures before an August 10 deadline to get the issue on a November ballot. In Sacramento, the group Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork needs 22,000 signatures before December to put the Kings’ subsidy on the June 2014 ballot.
Both efforts may be uphill climbs. The Georgia group is behind on the number of signatures it needs, according to a Facebook post, with just 10 days remaining before its deadline. STOP, the Sacramento group, already tried and failed to get enough signatures to force a special election to vote on the arena subsidies. Both are also facing fierce opposition, especially in Sacramento, where roughly 56,000 citizens received robocalls this week urging them to oppose the petitions and espousing the values of a new arena, which the calls say will create jobs 4,000 jobs and $100 million in new revenues, the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday.
But both petition drives are also rooted in the knowledge that the arenas almost surely won’t live up to the claims proponents have made. As we’ve noted here repeatedly, the stadiums that are supposed to create jobs and drive economic growth rarely do. Instead, they leave cities mired in debt, forcing them to cut other jobs and services on which many people in the community depend. Take Glendale, Arizona, which inexplicably keeps dumping money into a failed arena project; or Minneapolis, where the funding scheme for a new NFL stadium is already failing before construction crews break ground. Consider Cincinnati or Miami. Consider that Americans are spending $4 billion in public money on stadiums, that the projects almost always run over-budget, and that not only do they fail to live up to expectations, they fail to boost economic growth at all.
Still, it’s unknown whether taxpayers in either city would ultimately reject the financing plans. It’s entirely possible that they would find more value in having new facilities and the professional teams that go with them than they would in having no team at all (even though that’s not necessarily the case in Atlanta). We don’t know the answer to that question, though, because taxpayers rarely get the choice they deserve or the chance to make it with the knowledge of what has happened in other cities that have chosen to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to these projects. If arenas and stadiums are such good deals, why are their proponents so scared to let citizens have a say in the process?