The Sacramento Kings arena proposal may not even be written down yet, but that’s not stopping two Sacramento attorneys from saying they’ll launch a referendum campaign if it involves similar public subsidies to last year’s plan:
“If the proposed subsidy is similar to what the City Council approved (during arena efforts) last year, our coalition will likely file a referendum petition so that the voters will be able to decide the matter,” they wrote.
While this wouldn’t normally be considered big news — anybody can threaten to get signatures to force a referendum — it holds a risk for Sacramento that far outweighs the likelihood of a referendum passing: Since it would take months for a petition campaign to run its course, Sacramento wouldn’t be able to finalize a deal until the summer at best. (And yes, I know that any Kings arena plan is going to require an environmental review, but those almost never end up being major roadblocks.) Which would make it very hard for the NBA to turn down the Seattle bid in April, in exchange for a deal that could end up being overturned by voters. Or, more to the point, would make it very easy for the NBA to say, “Okay, this team is going to Seattle, but Sacramento, if you get an arena deal signed, sealed, and delivered at some point, we’ll get back to you.”
One big question about any referendum campaign, however: A public vote is only required if a local government is trying to raise taxes, and as of now, Sacramento isn’t proposing any tax hikes. Of course, it also still has a giant budget hole in the matter of what would be used to replace the future parking revenues that would be diverted to pay for the Kings arena. If Sacramento pulled a Minnesota-style “we’re going to pay for this with ticket taxes or something, and if that’s not enough, well, we’ll figure something out” plan, would that be enough to trigger a referendum requirement? Do I look like a California constitutional lawyer? Don’t answer that.