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Crawford: State shouldnt pay for a new football stadium
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The Baltimore Ravens were not the only football visitors to Georgia last week.

Roger Goodell, the National Football League commissioner, also dropped by Atlanta and had a conversation with two of the top political leaders in the state: Gov.-elect Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

The NFL is one of the biggest moneymakers among America's sports organizations, but Goodell was in town to ask for a government handout. He wants the city and the state to pledge hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build a new stadium for Arthur Blank and his Atlanta Falcons. If we'll fork over the money, Atlanta may get a Super Bowl.

I'm sure the state will grant that wish. During the past legislative session, Rep. Mark Burkhalter, R-Johns Creek, introduced a bill, signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, that imposes a special tax for a 30-year period to raise the funds for an outdoor football stadium.

How much of a "Blank check" are we talking about here? The current standard for a stadium that would be good enough to earn a Super Bowl is apparently the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas that cost nearly $1.2 billion.

You can figure that a new stadium suitable for Roger Goodell would cost at least $600 million to $700 million in tax dollars, and possibly a lot more.

Georgia's top officials are being asked to commit all this money while we're still paying off an estimated $214 million for the bonds that financed the construction of the Falcons' current venue, the Georgia Dome.

There are some other entities that also use the Georgia Dome. The Southeastern Conference uses it every year as the site of its football championship game. The Georgia High School Association uses it to stage its state high school football championships. It is the site of the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the early season football game between an SEC and an Atlantic Coast Conference school that is promoted by the Atlanta Sports Council. Georgia State University uses it as its home football stadium. he NCAA has staged several "March Madness" basketball tournaments there.

None of them are demanding a new outdoor stadium. They seem to be satisfied with the current domed facility, which opened some 19 years ago and is still in good condition.

There are some other factors to consider. Because of the economic downturn, the state legislature has been forced to cut the state budget by more than $3 billion over the past few years. Lawmakers will probably have to chop another $1 billion or so from state spending next session.

Here is what we're already unable to pay for because of this shortage of money:

n A full school year that enables kids to attend classes for 180 days. The state now funds about 147 days of school a year.

n Highways to drive on. Georgia spends less than any other state, except Tennessee, on transportation infrastructure and we now have some of the most crowded highways and highest commuting times in the nation.

n Water to drink and flush our plumbing fixtures. We are about 20 months away from a court-imposed deadline that could cut off access to Lake Lanier for much of North Georgia.

n State troopers to patrol our jam-packed highways and crime labs to help put criminals in jail. Because of the budget crunch, Georgia isn't filling vacant positions in the State Patrol and has closed crime labs around the state.

Finding a solution to those problems should be the No. 1 job - in fact, the only job - of the person who was just elected to be our governor for the next four years. How was he spending his limited time last week?

He was listening to the NFL commissioner try to talk him into spending money that we don't have for a new football stadium that isn't needed, a stadium that will put more money into the pockets of someone who is already one of the richest men in the state.

I guess I'm hopelessly old-fashioned. I always thought the provision of good schools, safe highways and clean water were more important to Georgians' quality of life than a football stadium built to gratify the egos of the millionaires who make up the NFL.

Obviously, I was mistaken.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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