Opinion: A large field vies to be Atlanta’s mayor … and do what, exactly?

The largest field of contestants in 2017 this side of “The Bachelor” — hey, there’s no Republican presidential primary this year — is shaping up to be the candidates for Atlanta’s mayor. About a dozen folks have said they’re running. More may jump in.

It’s enough to make you ask: What do they think they’re going to do once they get there? Nothing that costs money, I hope.

What to do with Underground Atlanta is among the big decisions that may already be made by the time the next mayor takes office. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

What to do with Underground Atlanta is among the big decisions that may already be made by the time the next mayor takes office. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

I don’t say that only as a penny-pinching taxpayer. I say it as someone who recognizes the current administration of Kasim Reed has already used up just about every available pot of money on its own initiatives, short of raising taxes (again). To wit:

The city’s sales tax rate is due to rise to 8.9 percent after voters approved increases for MARTA and other transportation projects. That’s easily the highest rate in Georgia and nearly as high as the 9.25 percent rate in Chattanooga, Tennessee, whose residents pay no state income tax.

A year earlier, Atlanta voters approved $250 million in bonds for other infrastructure. City Hall earmarked pretty much all available cash to make those bond payments.

The city’s also running out of other taxes to raise. A huge chunk of the hotel/motel tax is committed to the new Falcons stadium. The rental-car tax is being re-upped to renovate Philips Arena, which is getting a total of $142.5 million in taxpayer funding — three-quarters of the project cost, with nary a public pledge from the Hawks’ owners to make other investments nearby (as the Braves are doing in Cobb County).

How about selling off big tracts of land? The pickings are slim there, too. Georgia State and a private partner are buying Turner Field, with almost half of the proceeds tabbed for the Philips face-lift. The arena is also reportedly getting $20 million from sales of other, smaller parcels. A deal for Underground Atlanta has yet to close, and one for the civic center fell apart, so some money might be had from those sales.

Many of the city’s fastest-growing areas are in tax allocation districts, meaning the revenue sparked by their growth is already spoken for. Tax abatements are such an overused economic-development tool that they’re practically a developer entitlement at this point rather than leverage to induce investment that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.

All of this leaves a few main possibilities, as campaign promises go, for the would-be mayors:

1. Promise to implement the existing vision for the city with efficiency and competence. (Not the sexiest campaign slogan.)

2. Promise to halt some of these projects and/or renegotiate them. (Good luck getting those horses back in the barn.)

3. Promise to raise taxes. (Or, after being elected, break a promise not to.)

4. Focus on something else entirely.

Option No. 4 would be a departure from the usual Atlanta way, which historically has been to build, build and build some more. From the city government’s perspective, that has meant catering to the builders.

Getting away from that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Committing hundreds of millions of dollars over a period of decades to replacing barely worn sports stadiums, for instance, has meant putting off other needed improvements — or raising taxes to make them (see those recently approved sales-tax hikes).

But it may also mean a different kind of promise we’re more accustomed to seeing in other large cities, such as a steeply increased local minimum wage that drives jobs out of the city.

We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m sure of one thing: A dozen people aren’t running for the job to sit around idly after winning it.

Reader Comments 0

25 comments
RoadScholar
RoadScholar

So there should be no transportation improvements or additional maintenance done, even though a huge need has been identified?

Have you ridden on the COA streets? How about some of the suburbs? Didn't they just raise their sales tax to implement transportation improvements? Doesn't a sales tax get partially paid by visitors who pay no local taxes?

EdGraham
EdGraham

The white candidates can just hang it up.  Just as we saw in 2009 when Mary Norwood ran against Kasim Reed, the black power elite will pull out all of the stops and scare ignorant black voters into believing that lynchings will occur if a white mayor is elected.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@EdGraham That's interesting.  I thought the final results of the election showed that more Black voters voted for Norwood than White voters voted for Reed.  


It was close along racial lines, but hardly any  white voters crossed the color line.  It cuts both ways. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

I'm running. Just haven't filed yet


I'm going to promist to Make Atlanta Great Again.


Going to bring back all those coal jobs and if a sports team thinks of leaving they will have to pay a 150% tax to do so.


By the time this thing gets off its feet I could shoot someone on Peachtree and not lose a voter.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Hedley_Lammar 

I'm not running for mayor, I'm going to wait and run for governor. If elected, I promise to neuter the GBI because they think I'm a Putin boot licker.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Hedley_Lammar I have an old cheese grater. With things going down the tubes...I bet you Trump will increase energy prices so that We can Make America Grate again...by hand!

Bruno2
Bruno2

Kyle: "The city’s also running out of other taxes to raise. A huge chunk of the hotel/motel tax is committed to the new Falcons stadium. The rental-car tax is being re-upped to renovate Philips Arena"

Personally, I think hotel/motel and rental car taxes are short-sighted since they ultimately discourage travelers from coming to GA.  New Jersey similarly gouges people to stay in a hotel or to rent a car, with the predictable effect on tourism.  A basic tenet of economics is to not create negative incentives for that which you want people to do.

Caius
Caius

Why don't Atlanta just sell water to Florida and Alabama?

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

As far as stadiums it seems to be the course of the day regardless of the city and here they was no real possibility those tax incentives would not be used. Regarding other investments such as infrastructure, as one of the oldest cities in the region, the tab has come due....the sewer system was the first domino. People always say that the money for the stadium could have been used for schools etc but I've seen no appetite to commit that legislation outside of the usual SPLOST renewals. With all the major pieces of city property like Turner Field, the Civic Center and Underground being sold and the Peachtree-Pine shelter issue appearing to be off the table for the next mayor it will indeed be interesting to see the agenda of the new mayor....will it be business minded or focus on things like affordable housing or income inequality. One major issue is police staffing and retention that I could see being a focus. Your ideas for focus?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Bruno2 @ATLAquarius Isn't that county money not Atlanta money.


Either way you can hear Liberty Media laughing all the way from Colorado. 

Bruno2
Bruno2

@ATLAquarius I haven't seen any impact studies, but the math doesn't seem to add up to me regarding the wisdom of building a new stadium for each sport every 20 years.  The new Braves stadium costs $672 million plus $452 million for the mixed use development surrounding the stadium for a total of more than $1.1 Billion dollars.  If they only stay 20 years, that comes out to $55 million per year, which is a lot of dough.

A quick google search indicates the new Falcons stadium will cost over $1 billion as well.  With only about 10 games per year scheduled--regular season plus pre-season--that's a huge amount of money to recoup.

Bruno2
Bruno2

@Hedley_Lammar @Bruno2 @ATLAquarius I'm surprised there hasn't been a major lawsuit filed yet considering the way the decision was made.  I still own a house in Cobb County, so I'll have to keep an eye on my property tax bill this year.

JaperJones1918
JaperJones1918

Arthur Blank could have written a check for the new stadium in one fell swoop, but no everybody else is picking up the tab.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Kyle,  you just dont understand investment.  That money they spent on the sports stadiums will return at least 3x revenue....just kidding....We likely got fleeced over those stadiums as basically every study says its a bad investment.


The region has population growth, so it has increases in productivity thus revenues.  There will be more in tax revenues,  but not enough to do much.  Luckily, there isn't much to do as Reed actually solved a lot of issues.  What do you think we need to fix?

Astropig
Astropig

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara


AMEN !


Just bought and am restoring a house over on Johnson Rd. My god in heaven...Marietta and N. Marietta are destroying my Tacoma's suspension-and its a pretty rough,tuff truck!


To borrow a phrase-"It's the roads,stupid!"

justhetruth2017
justhetruth2017

@Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara Go to Mayor Reeds neighborhood. ALL the roads are newly paved with a SECOND paving in 8 years while Buckhead (who pays for it all) is a disgrace. 


Crime is at an all time high because the Mayor had Peter Aman gut the police dept by doing a "Bain" job on their retirement pkgs so we have over 500 job openings.


WE DONT HAVE ENOUGH POLICE ON THE STREET. Just ask anyone on the southside where living is as dangerous as in Iraq today. 

BUT...the Mayor let BILLIONS in airport contracts before he is set to leave so he could make sure Jackmont and the rest of the cabel got their deals done. 


Mayor Reed has sucked this city dry. Regardless what anyone says by this time next year we will be running on fumes.  

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@justhetruth2015 @Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara The actual data says that the crime rate has fallen. At least what I can find since 2014.  


The Southside is not as dangerous as Iraq.  I know people who live there and they aren't scared for their lives.  There are pockets of crime, but its nowhere near a war torn country.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@justhetruth2015 @Kyle_Wingfield @JFMcNamara Also, its not just the people in Buckhead paying taxes.  There are numerous  homes off Cascade are worth $2 or $3 million dollars with many, many more in the half million dollar range.  Buckhead is not the only wealthy area in Atlanta.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JFMcNamara For one, I'd like to be able to drive on the roads without needing a realignment twice a year. Amazingly, $250M in infrastructure bonds and ~$300M in T-SPLOST and none of the roads I drive on the most are getting repaved ...

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

So they can speed around town with blue lights and sirens going.