July 24, 2024
Finance

Kansas lawmakers approve a plan to lure the Chiefs from Missouri by helping to finance a new stadium


Korb Maxell, an attorney for the Chiefs who lives on the Kansas side of the border, said the state’s lawmakers were “embracing the possibility of the Chiefs and the Royals” and can now make a “very compelling offer” to the NFL team.

“We’re excited about what happened here today,” he said after the bill cleared the Legislature. “This is incredibly real.”

The votes were 84-38 in the House and 27-8 in the Senate. Kelly stopped short of saying she’ll sign the stadium-financing bill, but in a statement, she praised the effort behind it.

“Kansas now has the opportunity to become a professional sports powerhouse,” she said.

Kansas legislators see the two teams as in play because in April, voters on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metropolitan area refused to extend a sales tax used to keep up the teams’ existing stadiums, which sit side by side.

A spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson did not immediately return an email message seeking comment. But in Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas promised to “lay out a good offer” to keep both teams from moving to Kansas.

In Kansas, top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature had promised that the stadium proposal wouldn’t be debated until the Legislature approved a plan that would cut income and property taxes by a total of $1.23 billion over the next three years. Many lawmakers argued that voters would be angry if the state helped finance new stadiums without cutting taxes.

“We definitely need to demonstrate that we’re getting relief to our citizens,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican who backed the stadium-financing plan.

Kelly called a special session to have lawmakers consider reducing taxes after she vetoed three tax-cutting plans before legislators adjourned their regular annual session May 1. Once legislators convened the special session, Kelly couldn’t control what they considered, and that created an opening to consider the stadium-financing plan.

The first version of the plan emerged in late April, but lawmakers didn’t vote on it before adjourning. It would have allowed state bonds to finance all stadium construction costs, but supporters later opted for the 70% cap to pick up votes, and the plan also would require legislative leaders and the governor to sign off on any bonding.

House Commerce Committee Chair Sean Tarwater, a Kansas City-area Republican, said the Chiefs are likely to spend between $500 million and $700 million in private funds on a new stadium.

“There are no blank checks,” Tarwater told GOP colleagues during a briefing on the plan before the House began debating it.

A new nonprofit group, Scoop and Score, formed last month to push for bringing the Chiefs to Kansas, and that group and the Royals together hired more than 30 lobbyists for the special session. But the national free-market, small-government group Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute, a free-market think tank, oppose the measure, and both have been influential with conservative Republicans.

Free-market conservatives have long opposed state and local subsidies for specific businesses or projects. And economists who’ve studied pro sports teams have concluded in dozens of studies over decades that subsidizing their stadiums isn’t worth the cost.

“Most of the money that gets spent on the Chiefs is money that would otherwise be spent on other entertainment projects,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in central Massachusetts who has written multiple books about sports.

Missouri officials have said they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the teams but haven’t outlined any proposals.

“The story now is that today was largely in my opinion about leverage,” Lucas said. “And the teams are in an exceptional leverage position.”

The two teams’ lease on their stadium complex runs through January 2031, but Maxwell said renovations on the team’s Arrowhead Stadium should be planned seven or eight years in advance.

“There is an urgency to this,” added David Frantz, the Royals’ general counsel.

Supporters of the stadium plan argued that economists’ past research doesn’t apply to the Chiefs and Royals. They said the bonds will be paid off with tax revenues that aren’t being generated now and would never be without the stadiums or the development around them. Masterson said it’s wrong to call the bonds a subsidy.

And Maxwell said: “For a town to be major league, they need major league teams.”

But economists who’ve studied pro sports said similar arguments have been a staple of past debates over paying for new stadiums. Development around a new stadium lessens development elsewhere, where the tax dollars generated would go to fund services or schools, they said.

“It could still help Kansas and maybe hurt Missouri by the same amount,” Zimbalist said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

Kansas House Commerce Committee Chair Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, tries to persuade other House Republicans to support a proposal to help the Kansas City Chiefs finance a new stadium in Kansas, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. Tarwater and top GOP legislators hope to lure the Chiefs and Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals to Kansas from Missouri. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Michael Austin, a Kansas economist and a lobbyist for the free-market, small-government group Americans for Prosperity, awaits the start of a legislative hearing on a proposal that the group opposes to allow the state to issue bonds to help professional football's Kansas City Chiefs build a new stadium in Kansas, Monday, June 17, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. For decades, economists who've studied professional sports have argued that government subsidies for new stadiums are not worth the cost. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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FILE - A woman and her dog walk past Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals baseball team, March 24, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas Legislature's top leaders endorsed helping the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals finance new stadiums in Kansas ahead of a special session set to convene Tuesday, June 18. The plan would authorize state bonds for stadium construction and pay them off with revenues from sports betting, the Kansas Lottery and new tax dollars generated in and around the new venues. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

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Kansas state Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, follows a Senate vote approving a bill that would cut state income and property taxes by a total of $1.2 billion over the next three years, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. Legislative leaders said the tax cuts must pass first before lawmakers consider a plan to help the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs build a new stadium in Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas state Rep. Chuck Smith, R-Pittsburg, listens to comments about a proposal to help finance a new stadium in Kansas for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs during a meeting of GOP lawmakers, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The plan also would allow the state to help finance a new stadium for professional baseball's Kansas City Royals. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas House Speaker Dan Hawkins, left, R-Wichita, confers with House Commerce Committee Chair Sean Tarwater, R-Stillwell, ahead of a meeting of GOP lawmakers on a proposal to help the Kansas City Chiefs build a new stadium in Kansas, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The plan would allow the state to issue bonds to help pay for a new stadium for the Chiefs and professional baseball's Kansas City Royals. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas state Sen. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, tries to persuade fellow GOP senators in a meeting to support a proposal aimed at luring the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The proposal would authorize state bonds to help finance new stadiums in Kansas for the Chiefs and Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas state Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, right, D-Wichita, confers with Sen. Ethan Corson, left, D-Prairie Village, during a Senate debate on a proposal aimed at luring the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The measure would allow Kansas to issue bonds to help the Chiefs and professional baseball's Kansas City Royals new stadiums in Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Kansas state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, asks questions during the Senate debate about the details of a proposal aimed at luring the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The proposal would authorize state bonds to help the Super Bowl champion Chiefs and Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals finance new stadiums in Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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Pizza boxes sit on tables outside the entrances to the Kansas House chamber to provide lunch for members as they debate a proposal for luring the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri, Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. The proposal would authorize state bonds to help finance a new stadiums for the Chiefs and Major League Baseball's Kansas City Royals in Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

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