When former Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee sat down with executives representing Liberty Media Corporation’s Atlanta Braves, he found himself negotiating with a school of powerful and monied barracudas. Lee must have looked like a mullet to them.
We know what went down. Behind closed doors and out of sight and hearing of Cobb County taxpayers, Lee cut a woeful deal with Liberty, one in which y’all are footing nearly $400 million for the Braves’ stadium, a glaring example of corporate welfare taking precedence over Cobb citizens.
Liberty Media Corporation doesn’t need my money or yours. It has a market cap of over $8 billion. John Malone, Liberty’s CEO, has a net worth of $7.5 billion. The Braves made a $94 million profit in 2018.
It was not the first time Braves executives and their corporate masters in Englewood, Colorado, worked this kind of taxpayer squeeze. Over in Gwinnett County, they’re on the hook for a ballpark where the Braves’ Triple A team plays, a deal that has never lived up to all the promises made by the Braves or county officials. More recently, Sarasota County, Florida, taxpayers covered half of the cost of a new $100 million spring training facility and minor league stadium for the Braves.
“Over the last 15 years, the Braves have extracted nearly half a billion in public funds for four new homes, each bigger and more expensive than the last. … They showered attention on local officials unaccustomed to dealing with a big-league franchise and, in the end, left most of the cost on the public ledger,” reported Bloomberg Businessweek in April 2016 under the headline “The Braves play taxpayers better than they play baseball.”
Lee basically presented the new Cobb County stadium to voters as a fait accompli to the consternation of tea party activists and others jealous of how their hard-earned dollars are spent by county officials. The predictable howls of outrage followed, but the deal was done in a blink of an eye.
“If it had leaked out,” then-Braves President John Schuerholz admitted in 2013, “this deal would not have gotten done … more people would have started taking the position of, ‘We don’t want that to happen.’”
Or maybe not. Just maybe, if Lee had handled things in a principled way, remembering his priority was Cobb taxpayers — not Liberty Media — he would have earned public support for the deal. In the end, voter anger over the stadium caught up with Tim Lee. Rather than ensuring his re-election by grateful Cobb taxpayers, he was defeated by current Commission Chairman Mike Boyce in 2016.
President Trump’s recent budget proposal aims to pay for the massive tax cuts he gave people like himself and big corporations with huge cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance, low-income housing and other safety net spending. Public education is likewise targeted for deep cuts if the president gets his way. Trump wants to fulfill the Mar a Lago set’s dream of eliminating what the 1 percent doesn’t need but what tens of millions of Americans depend on.
Conservatives have always counted on this sort of misplaced deference. But those in the upper stratosphere of earnings enjoy their immense wealth because they have the good fortune of living and working in America, which helped make their success possible. That should come with some obligations, things like a livable minimum wage, that every child can go to a quality public school, and that we have 21st century infrastructure.