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Monday, June 2, 2014 - 4:16am

UGA Prof: Braves Stadium Deal Part Of Southern History Of Handing Taxes To Private Enterprise

Opponents of a deal to lure the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County say they are exploring their legal options after their defeat last week.

County commissioners agreed to contracts that will invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a new stadium complex.

A recent poll found most Georgians oppose public subsidies for professional sports teams.

But old habits die hard, and Southerners have been funneling taxes to private enterprise for a long time, said James Cobb, a historian at the University of Georgia.

“After the agricultural economy was pretty much rend asunder by the Civil War, the southern states began to provide incentives and sweeten the deals to attract outside capital that was supposedly going to bring the South back to prosperity by urbanization and industrialization,” Cobb said.

Northern states initially criticized the South for interfering with the normal course of capitalism, but by the mid-20th century, they had started using many of the same tricks.

“And then, in the last generation, the global labor market has become so competitive that it’s been very hard to, sort of, ditch the subsidy approach,” Cobb said.

Cobb is a consistent and pointed critic of public subsidies for private industry, which he says come at the expense of vital public services, and might not result in net job gains over the long term.

“You throw over so much in public expenditures in various things, including education, to keep taxes down, that you reach a point of it being self-defeating, I think it’s fair to say,” he said.

Cobb’s research is focused on public incentives for industrial employers, but he thinks the dynamics at play in the Braves stadium deal are essentially the same.

“Team owners have gotten to be like the old garment factories who threatened to pull up stakes and leave if taxes weren’t cut or there wasn’t more community subsidy forthcoming,” Cobb said.

Athletics facilities are key employers in many urban areas across the country, Cobb said, “not solely for economics, but for morale and reputation and image.”