JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As St. Louis and Gov. Jay Nixon continue to slog through the process of negotiating a new NFL stadium to keep the Rams from shipping west to California, a lingering question about just who will pay, and how, is beginning to get an answer.
A few weeks ago Nixon indicated that while the NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke would be expected to contribute to a new stadium, the state of Missouri may potentially foot at least part of the bill as well. Nixon told lawmakers and the press that he may exercise his bonding authority to help pay for part of the cost of a new stadium.
Some lawmakers immediately raised concerns. In the upper chamber, Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, flatly rejected Nixon’s assertion of his authority. Silvey says that any bonding of this magnitude needs either legislative approval, or an affirmative vote of the people. He and several of his Republican colleagues asked for a legal opinion from Attorney General Chris Koster, one they have not yet received.
In the meantime, Silvey has filed SB460, which adds a single line to state statute that would clarify that such bonding measures need approval of state lawmakers or Missouri voters. The bill is scheduled for a hearing next week, and is already gaining support.
“Either make your case to the legislature and let us vote for it, or make your case to the people and let them vote for it,” Silvey said. “But the point is that the governor has taken the position that he has unilateral authority to extend bonds without asking permission from anyone.”
Silvey was in the House in 2005 when the Kansas City Chiefs looked to the state legislature to increase funding for sports stadiums to fund renovations. Silvey, along with 83 other lawmakers, signed a letter penned by then-House Budget Chairman Brad Lager that was delivered to then-House Speaker Rod Jetton. The letter rejected increased funding for the stadiums, and called on the legislature instead to prioritize education and programs for the poor, while inviting Jackson County residents to pay for their own sports team.
Silvey says the move worked. The legislature never gave the Chiefs any money, and Jackson County voters ultimately passed their own tax increase for the stadium. Silvey is now distributing copies of the letter, now almost a decade old, to potential naysayers or critics claiming his latest bill is a regional war with the St. Louis side of the state.
Silvey says that he doesn’t believe the legislature or the voters will necessarily reject new bonds for the Rams stadium, but says the full and complete plan must be made available first so everyone makes “an informed decision.”
“The state constitution gives the legislature the power of the purse,” Silvey said. “The appropriations process comes through us. For the governor to unilaterally have the authority to come in and issue debt makes the appropriation decision for us…His answer to me is, well you could just not appropriate it. But that’s not practical. If we don’t pay our debt, then we violate the constitution, and we are the ones who tank the bond rating because we didn’t make the debt payment.”
A new Rams stadium is likely to cost upwards of $900 million, and roughly half the funds are set to come from the NFL and the Rams organization. No NFL team has ever left a city that made a concrete proposal for a pricier venue.