Both my laptop and I are sick today (pretty sure neither of us caught it from the other), but I do need to note the big development in St. Louis, where Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley ruled that the 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote before taxpayer money is spent on a new sports facility is “too vague to be enforced,” and struck it down, meaning it wouldn’t apply to any new Rams stadium.
The backstory, as I described it back in April when the state filed suit against the city ordinance and when I didn’t have a headache:
To help understand what’s going on here, let’s travel back in time to 2002, when the Cardinals were in the midst of arranging public funding for a new stadium of their own, and local activists were trying to head off the city and county governments from approving it without letting actual residents have a say. The city referendum requirement passed 55-45% in 2002, and a similar county requirement by an even larger margin two years later, but courts subsequently ruled that since the money had already been allocated, it couldn’t be rescinded by the public vote requirement. All future stadium projects, though, would have to go before the voters.
That’s the clause that the Jones Dome authority is now objecting to, and it’s making a rather strange stand, arguing that because the referendums’ backers drew them up so stringently — they require a public vote on any “financial assistance” including tax breaks, tax-increment financing, free land, loans, or city or county bonds — that this is unacceptably broad. If they’d only been reasonable enough to leave some loopholes that the Rams could drive a stadium-sized truck through, then this lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary.
Frawley has now essentially agreed with the state dome authority, saying that because the 2002 referendum was silent on such matters as whether police and fire services can be supplied to a new stadium without a vote, the whole ordinance needs to be scuttled. There’s still the question of how strongly the city defended the ordinance in court, given that Mayor Francis Slay supports building the Rams stadium — a group of citizens, including some who introduced the 2002 initiative in the first place, sued to intervene in the defense, but Frawley tossed out their request as well. (A separate lawsuit filed by the citizen group is still in progress, and they will likely try to appeal yesterday’s ruling as well.) So for now, the law of the state of Missouri is that if the people of St. Louis wanted a say in spending money on sports venues, they should have worded it more carefully.
For now, though, this is obviously a big step forward for the Rams stadium plan, since it now means the state just has to worry about how to finance $400 million for a new stadium plus $100 million left on the old one from the same taxes that were approved to build the Jones Dome — which seemed a mathematical impossibility back when it was first proposed, even before Gov. Jay Nixon said he’d skip using the $6 million a year in county tax money if it would require a public vote. (The county had its own public-vote requirement passed in 2004, and it remains in place.) That would leave $18 million a year to pay off $500 million in expenses, which simply can’t be done — but at least if Nixon can conquer math, he no longer needs to worry about winning over St. Louis voters as well.