Chiefs, Royals ask Kansas for incentives to allow teams to leave Missouri

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The legislation would expand a tax incentive program to help bankroll new stadiums for the teams

Representatives of the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals urged Kansas lawmakers Monday to expand a tax incentive program to provide the teams millions of dollars to leave Missouri and set up shop in new stadiums across the state line.

“If we want to be major league we’ve got to have major league teams,” Korb Maxwell, an attorney who represents the Chiefs, told lawmakers during an informational hearing at the Kansas Statehouse. “This is the greatest opportunity we’ve had in any generation, and it’s here before us right now.”

Other proponents of the plan were more blunt: If Kansas doesn’t act, a group hoping to lure the teams to Kansas argued, the Kansas City region is at risk of losing its professional football and baseball teams.

“The risk that the Kansas City Chiefs and the Kansas City Royals — our Chiefs, our Royals — could be lured away by other states is not a risk that Kansans want to take,” said Dan Murray, a lobbyist for Scoop and Score Inc., a nonprofit hoping to bring the Chiefs to Kansas.

On the table Monday was a plan to expand the state’s tax incentive program meant to help finance tourism and entertainment destinations. Under the legislation, the teams could receive more than $750 million to help finance stadium projects.

The informational hearing came ahead of a special legislative session that starts Tuesday. Lawmakers can’t take action on the bill until the formal start of the special session.

The legislation would enhance the state’s existing Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) Bond program to provide up to 75% of the project’s costs by issuing bonds that would be repaid with the increased sales state tax collections at the project site. Other projects can use STAR Bonds to finance up to 50% of a project.

The bill requires a minimum $1 billion capital investment and limits the eligibility to National Football League or Major League Baseball teams currently located near Kansas. The financing mechanism could be used for both stadiums and training facilities.

Debt on a stadium constructed under the expansion wouldn’t have to be repaid for 30 years instead of the normal 20.

The project could also receive a boost from liquor taxes generated in the STAR Bond district and revenues from a fund Kansas created when it legalized sports betting.

Gov. Laura Kelly, who has championed enormous economic development projects in Kansas, didn’t commit to supporting the legislation on Monday.

“I’m impressed by the full-court press that has been made to get these teams to consider moving across the river,” she told reporters. “It’s not something I’m going to invest a lot of energy in. I think this is something for the legislature to work through.”

Kelly’s chief of staff, Will Lawrence, told the joint committee the governor’s office had no concerns with the current version of the bill that would keep her from signing it.

STAR Bonds have been criticized by some legislators as ineffective, and an audit found that less than one-quarter of the attractions funded through the program met the state’s goal of increasing tourism. There may be some cases, the audit says, where certain projects kept Kansans spending money in Kansas rather than going to Missouri.

“But we think it’s more often that local visitors simply move existing economic activity from one part of Kansas to another,” the audit says.

Moving the teams

Kansas lawmakers launched an effort to lure the Chiefs or Royals — or both — after Jackson County, Missouri, voters in April rejected a proposed extension of a 3/8-cent sales tax to help finance a new stadium for the Royals and upgrades at Arrowhead Stadium.

Maxwell said the organization had been asked why the legislation needed to be passed in special session rather than when lawmakers reconvene for their normal session in January.

Because with only a few years left in the Chiefs’ lease at Arrowhead, “time is of the essence,” he said.

“The time is now,” Maxwell said. “Missouri spoke, Jackson County spoke. They had their opportunity, but now there’s a moment for Kansas to step up.”

The effort to reauthorize the sales tax in Missouri was driven primarily by the Royals, whose executives unveiled plans to move to the Crossroads Arts District in downtown Kansas City in February — less than two months before the vote. It failed with 58% of voters rejecting the proposal.

Earlier this month, Scoop and Score Inc. launched to advocate for moving Chiefs — the reigning Super Bowl champions — to Kansas. The organization’s website implores visitors to sign a petition to “tell legislators to keep the Chiefs in KC!”

The organization has hired 30 lobbyists, including Murray. The Royals have eight lobbyists, and the Chiefs employ former Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. and his former aide, Paje Resner, as lobbyists.

Ryckman said Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt could be open to moving the team outside of the Kansas City region.

“We’re aware of numerous cities that would love to be the home of the Chiefs or the Royals,” Ryckman said.

Murray urged lawmakers to support the legislation, arguing it has “guardrails, guardrails guardrails” to keep the state and local governments from being on the hook for the bonds.

While an attorney for the Chiefs acknowledged the franchise hasn’t come up with a design or plan for a stadium in Kansas, Murray urged lawmakers to move forward with creating a program. Vetting the details, he said, will be up to the Kansas Department of Commerce with final approval by the Legislative Coordinating Council, an eight-member committee of House and Senate lawmakers that can adopt legislation when the Legislature is not in session.

But a draft of the bill says any agreement between the state and a team would be confidential until after it has been executed.

The bill was panned by libertarian groups as a handout for corporations that would do little to increase economic activity in Kansas. Dave Trabert, CEO of the Kansas Policy Institute, told the committee there was no way to verify the claims that the stadiums would boost the economy.

“We asked Scoop and Score to provide their math. ‘Show us how you arrived at a billion dollars of economic activity,’’ Trabert said. “Nothing was forthcoming.”

In an interview, Trabert called the proposal “absurd.”

“This isn’t about economic development,” he said. “It’s about politics. It’s so people can say, ‘Look what I did. Vote for me.’”

Former Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. speaks to reporters at The Statehouse. Ryckman is lobbying on behalf of the Kansas City Chiefs on a bill aimed at moving the team from Missouri.(Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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