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Legislators question Office of Administration on state stadium funding issues

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – An aura of frustration from a lack of information filled the House Budget Committee hearing Monday on the proposed new football stadium in St. Louis.

Most of that frustration came from questions about the way Gov. Jay Nixon handled the proposal with regards to the legislature – namely the fact he had not dealt with them personally at all.

Though Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson attended to speak for the executive branch, he did so in a limited role, but one specifically designed to say that the branch had the unilateral authority to approve of bonds without legislative authority thanks to a lack of regulating language in Chapter 67.

“In my opinion, when you look at Chapter 67, the legislative branch has granted executive branch broad authority in what they can spend bonds on,” Nelson said. “When I look at 67 and it says can we issue, I think that we can. If the body is that upset about it, you’ve got the road map, you’ve limited the authority of the executive branch. You did it to public buildings. I just don’t think it’s been done in Chapter 67.”

When he could not answer some other questions, members on both sides of the aisle became peeved.

“We continue to be met with a brick wall to our questions,” Rep. Genise Monticello, D-St. Louis County, said. “You’re asking the people to foot the bill of a very expensive stadium for a lot of unknowns… I would love to have a less adversarial role from the executive branch when it comes to the budget.”

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told Nelson he believed the proposal has too many uncertainties to not be under the purview of the legislature.

“We would potentially put the credit rating of the state in jeopardy and put the state in more debt in hopes of bringing another NFL team to the city,” Rowden said. “I think it’s fairly common knowledge this owner doesn’t want to be here. We could give [Rams franchise owner Stan] Kroenke every single thing he wants, and he’s going to go to California and make more money.

“It’s just there are so many assumptions being made, you fault us for putting hypotheticals in this place, but that’s all we can do.”

The hearing began with two of the lead legislators looking to block state funding for the new stadium: Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Barnes, Schaaf and a handful of other legislators filed a lawsuit to use current laws to stop any further action by Nixon or his administration. Barnes, however, is no longer the lead attorney on the case.

“I fired myself as the lawyer because of my anger at what I believe to be the governor flouting the rule of law in our state that I could not be persuasive to people who had never heard the issue before,” Barnes said. “Our predecessors did not write a blank check for our governor to build stadium after stadium.”

There was also testimony from various groups which presented differing interpretations of the economic impact of sports stadiums. Empower Missouri did not attend, but Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford released a statement saying the organization opposed the use of taxpayer dollars for a new stadium.

“Time and time again, sports team owners have used strong-arm tactics to demand public support for new stadiums or other projects,” she wrote. “In these projects, the owners attempt to socialize the risk of their ‘improvements,’ while privatizing the profit – asking for huge concessions around naming rights, ticket taxes, or other profits generated by the team. Many General Assembly members have signaled their opposition to this wrongly placed priority around use of tax dollars, and we thank them.”

The Associated Industries of Missouri did testify, and they came out in favor of the stadium plan Monday afternoon.

The hearing ended just as news emerged that Nixon met with Kroenke at Rams Park.

House Budget Chair Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, noted this hearing would be the last of the calendar year on the stadium topic, though he expected it to come up again during session.