Friday February 12th, 2016 7:28AM

Falcons stadium debate puts focus on priorities

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA - State and local officials are contemplating using millions of dollars generated by a special hotel tax to help finance a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, a move that has some residents wondering: Why, when so much needs to be done to shore up roads, mass transit and struggling schools?

The answer, at least in part, is that current state law does not allow the hotel tax to be used to fix a sewer system fouling the Chattahoochee River, transportation improvements or education budgets. Hotel tax money is earmarked for special uses, among them help financing a $1 billion retractable-roof stadium in downtown Atlanta.

The General Assembly could change the law to divert the hotel tax revenues roughly $42 million a year for other projects. Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed couldn't unilaterally decide to divert the money elsewhere, even if they wanted to. And, at least for now, no one at the Capitol is talking about changing the law to do so.

``We don't even have a debate going on in the state Capitol,'' said state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta. ``Unless you have a debate, you can't make decisions about the needs of community folks.''

How officials ultimately spend the money is a telling indicator of where leaders are setting their priorities. Proponents say helping the Falcons build a new stadium reflects economic priorities: They say it would help protect and create jobs, attract out-of-town visitors and their money in the downtown area, encourage development around the sports complex and generate millions in spending.

Even if a new stadium isn't built, tax dollars would have to be used for maintaining the Georgia Dome. And under every scenario for funding a new complex so far, private investors would foot far more of the cost than taxpayers, Atlanta city councilor Yolanda Adrean said.

``You cannot overlook the fact that you have the potential to leverage 80 percent private dollars,'' she said. ``At the same time, you can't overlook the fact that we have a city that's woefully underinvested in its infrastructure.''

Deal and team owner Arthur Blank have been negotiating over how much public financing will go toward the new stadium. Regardless of how much money the state ultimately kicks in, the initial plans called for hotel tax revenues to be used to issue bonds to help pay for the stadium. The earliest plans would have required lawmakers to vote on issuing the new debt.

The original plan called for $300 million in bonds, though Deal later asked Blank to reduce that sum to $200 million as it became clear a substantial group of lawmakers felt the politics of voting to approve a deal would be too difficult.

Since then, officials have publicly contemplated whether Atlanta's city government could issue the bonds, a step bypassing the political obstacles in the General Assembly.

However, the debate over the stadium comes as officials try to figure out how to pay for other pressing needs. Just maintaining Atlanta's current existing infrastructure would cost about $920 million in a multi-year cycle, according to city finance officials. It faces big bills to upgrade an outdated sewer system that pollutes the Chattahoochee River, an ongoing cost that stood at more than $400 million in mid-2012. Those costs are paid in the form of taxes and water bills.

Reed's administration has shied away from borrowing money to whittle down the list of general infrastructure needs, focusing more on trimming deficits and building up a reserve fund.

So far, higher taxes haven't been an option. Over the summer, voters in metro Atlanta rejected an increase in the sales tax that would have funded more than $7 billion in transportation projects, including replacing bridges and expanding bus service.

``I know how the law is currently stated. But Atlanta has a lot of other priorities,'' said Baker Owens, who lives downtown and attended a recent forum on the stadium. ``... No one is saying, hey, wait a second, maybe we could use some hotel-motel tax money for some kind of transportation project.''
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Tech falls to Ole Miss in Music City Bowl
Bo Wallace ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score and Mississippi beat Georgia Tech 25-17 Monday in the Music City Bowl for the Rebels' second straight bowl victory under coach Hugh Freeze.
8:17PM ( 2 years ago )
College Sports
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 2 years ago )
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 2 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Medicaid growth creates gap of 5M without coverage; 409K in Ga.
About 5 million people will be without health care next year that they would have gotten simply if they lived somewhere else in America.
7:30AM ( 2 years ago )
Vandals spray graffiti against Kerry in West Bank
Suspected Jewish vandals set fire to three vehicles in a West Bank village early on Tuesday and sprayed threatening graffiti referring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ahead of his expected visit to the region, police said.
7:28AM ( 2 years ago )
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Three guards from Buford prison among those arrested in drug trafficking sting
Among the four dozen Georgia prison guards arrested as part of the FBI's Operation Ghost Guard were three former correctional officers at Phillips State Prison in Buford.
By AccessWDUN staff
6:16AM ( 1 hour ago )
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled for the crucial backing of black and Hispanic voters in Thursday night's Democratic debate and clashed heatedly over their support for Barack Obama
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled for the crucial backing of black and Hispanic voters in Thursday night's Democratic debate and clashed heatedly over their support for Barac...
11:37PM ( 7 hours ago )
South Hall wedding venue approved by county commissioners
The Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a 42 acre tract of land in South Hall as an agri-entertainment venue to house weddings and other gatherings at its voting session Thursday night at the Hall County Government Center.
10:20PM ( 9 hours ago )
Atlanta police officer shot and killed in incident just south of Hartsfield-Jackson airport
A police officer in suburban Atlanta was shot twice and killed Thursday by a suspect who was also wounded during a law enforcement operation, authorities said.
By The Associated Press
9:28PM ( 10 hours ago )
Officials investigate suspicious fire, third in less than a week in Barrow County
While investigators believe it was internationally set, they don't believe a fire in a vacant mobile home Wednesday night is related to two suspicious weekend fires.
2:30PM ( 16 hours ago )