K.C. and Jackson County tussle over who’ll pay stadium subsidies

If nothing else, the economic meltdown and attendant budget woes seem to be making local governments bolder about trying to reign in subsidies for sports facilities. On Thursday, Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser proposed a city budget that would eliminate the city’s $2 million a year subsidy of the Chiefs and Royals stadiums, which was extended as part of the teams’ $425 million stadium renovation deal approved three years ago by Funkhouser’s predecessor, Kay Barnes.

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders immediately flipped out, saying it would allow the teams to break their leases and leave town if they wanted to. “The fact that we would have violated a substantive provision would mean those leases are now gone,” Sanders told KMBZ radio. “We would be on a tightrope or a high wire with no safety net.”

Sanders’ confusion about funambulist nomenclature aside, the teams’ leases themselves (Royals here, Chiefs here) don’t seem to support his contention: They only say that the teams will get money from the existing “local/state sports tax revenues,” defined as “currently, Missouri State of $3 million, County Property Tax of approximately $3.5 Million, and City of $2 Million, with a minimum annual amount of these three combined sources not to be less than $8.5 Million per year.” In other words, the state, county, and city are responsible for coming up with $8.5 million a year, but how they get there is between the three of them, meaning if the city stops kicking in, the county and state would have to make up the shortfall — which helps explain why Sanders is flipping out, but also why Funkhouser felt free to say, “I don’t think it would jeopardize leases. We’re trying to focus on … basic services like police. That is a core function. Operating a sports venue is not.”

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