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Season no factor in stadium opposition
Lawmaker cites budget, lack of public support
Dudgeon WEB

Mike Dudgeon’s stance on a new football stadium in Atlanta would not have changed had the Falcons won the NFC Championship on Sunday.

“I don’t make a $300 million decision based on results of a game or two,” said Dudgeon, a Republican from south Forsyth who represents District 25 in the state House of Representatives.

“If the stadium is built, four years from now who knows what the team is like then? They can be 0-16 or 16-0. You’ve got to make a better economic decision than just one season.”

Dudgeon’s comments followed his visit Monday afternoon with the Rotary Club of Johns Creek, during which he talked about the Falcons’ stadium proposal, as well as other issues likely to come up this legislative session.

With a portion of Dudgeon’s district now in northern Fulton County, including a chunk of Johns Creek, Rotarian Marc Litt said it was nice to hear from him.

“It was informational for all of us to hear what’s going on,” Litt said. “It gives us a better perspective for what’s going on.”

Dudgeon talked about how difficult it will be to balance the state’s budget, since there are “not a lot of easy things to cut.”

He also touched on his support of ethics reform and how plans to deepen the port of Savannah could have a positive impact on the state.

Dudgeon told the gathering that he plans to introduce two measures that would expand the availability of technology in schools.

“Digital learning is taking off,” he said. “Some of the best material available to schools is online.”

According to Dudgeon, the lack of access to technology in poor, rural school districts is an economic development problem.

He also talked about the unlikelihood that a Milton County will be created.

“It may happen, but what’s more likely going to happen is you’re going to see more reforms in Fulton County,” he said. “Milton County is still a long way away.”

Dudgeon cited trust as a reason why voters rejected a July referendum on a 1-cent sales tax to fund regional transportation improvements in Fulton, Forsyth and surrounding counties.

“I think it failed really badly because of trust,” he said.

The issue of trust resurfaced when the lawmaker addressed the proposed new stadium for the Falcons.

“There’s not a lot of public support,” Dudgeon said. “And it goes back again to trust.”

The proposal would use $300 million in hotel-motel taxes to help pay to build a $1 billion retractable roof stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority would own the facility, but Dudgeon said it’s unlikely there would be a direct return on investment.

Supporters say the Falcons’ current home, the Georgia Dome, and the World Congress Center account for a $22 billion economic impact.

Dudgeon said he sees little public support for state involvement in a new stadium project.

Given Georgia’s tight financial situation, it would be difficult to explain to taxpayers that budget cuts remain necessary, but then “with a straight face, turn around and say, ‘Oh by the way, we can build a new stadium to replace a 20-year-old dome that’s already a state-of-the-art facility that’s having no problems.’”

“It’s more complicated than that, but I see it in those bigger picture terms and that’s why I’m so passionate about it,” Dudgeon said. “I’ve become sort of the spokesman for the people who aren’t comfortable with taxpayer money for the Falcons’ stadium.”

Though the hotel-motel tax is largely funded through tourism dollars, Dudgeon said it’s still paid for “by Americans and other states use that hotel-motel tax to fund other things that are more important.”

That said, Dudgeon said if the deal were to go through, the hotel-motel tax should be the funding source to limit the burden on Georgia taxpayers.

There is fear that Falcons owner Arthur Blank would pull the franchise out of the state if he doesn’t get funding.

“It’s happened around the country,” Dudgeon noted. “Franchises can use that threat to get really good deals out of governments because they’re always worried they’re going to leave. But I just don’t want to play that hostage game. And I will say that so far, Blank and the Falcons have been good about not threatening to leave.

“It’s just bad timing, it’s one of those things where the public doesn’t particularly want it … and the Georgia Dome is only 20 years old. It’s still in great shape.”