Missouri senators say they’ll withhold Rams stadium cash; Gov. Nixon: I don’t need their stinking votes

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has been doing his best to assert that he’ll move ahead with his $400 million-ish St. Louis Rams stadium subsidy plan with or without anyone’s approval, suing to get out of any requirement for a public referendum, asserting that he can sell bonds without needing to ask the legislature first, and funneling as much money as possible through tax credits that he doesn’t need anyone’s permission for. He’s still going to need the state legislature to pay off any bonds, though, and key state lawmakers now say they’ll simply refuse to do so if he tries to go ahead without letting them vote:

House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jay Nixon warning that he will block any effort to put money in the state budget for payments on a new stadium unless the Legislature or voters first approve the additional debt…

“Let me state that I am not opposed to a new stadium in the St. Louis region,” Flanigan wrote to Nixon. “However, I am opposed to using state resources, both tax credits and direct appropriations for debt service, for a new stadium before the existing stadium debt is paid for in full.”

Nixon promptly replied with some digits, and they were raised middle ones:

“The fact that — in the interim — four, five or six folks start talking about it out of a legislature with 200 people? They’re certainly entitled to say what they want,” Nixon said on Thursday. “But it is not going to dramatically affect continued progress we’re making in a taxpayer-sensitive way to move forward.”

When those “four, five or six folks” include the chairs of the budget committees that can block your legislation, I might not choose to be quite so flip about it, but hey, I’m not governor of anything.

Now, before anyone starts painting this as a major roadblock, note that the opposition senators (all of whom are Republicans, while Nixon is a Democrat, if you’re scoring at home) didn’t actually say they’d oppose the stadium funding, just that they’d do so unless they get to vote on it first. There’s clearly some opposition to spending public money on a new Rams stadium before the old one is paid off, but if the line in the sand is just “let us vote on it,” then there’s a clear path for Nixon to compromise. Or would be, if he weren’t dead set on belittling the legislators he needs in order to get this thing approved.

Meanwhile, the NFL relocation clock keeps on ticking, though no one has any clue how many minutes are left to go, or even what yard line any of the teams are on. At some point, presumably, the league is going to declare a two-minute warning (sorry, this metaphor just doesn’t want to die), and whether it’s a bluff or not, then we’re going to see things explode all over the place. I’d put the over-under around February 1, but feel free to set up a real betting line if you want to crowdsource this prediction.

Missouri actually identifies $280m in Rams funding, now only has $100m as “dunno yet”

The Missouri Development Finance Board has approved the first $15 million installment of those $50 million in tax credits Gov. Jay Nixon wants to give to the St. Louis Rams to help fund a new stadium. (The next two installments would come in 2016 and 2017.) That’s as to be expected, but the interesting part comes down in the fine print of the tax credit offering, which finally spells out how Nixon plans to cobble together $400 million or so in public stadium subsidies:

They have proposed to pay for construction with $450 million from the National Football League and the team that plays here, $201 million in bond proceeds from the state and the city of St. Louis, $160 million from the sale of seat licenses and $187 million in tax credits, according to the state application.

Let’s take those one at a time:

  • $201 million in bond proceeds is about what the state could get by refinancing the existing Jones Dome bonds: They have $18 million a year in hotel-motel tax money (approved for the last Rams stadium 20 years ago, which is now unconscionably old), and about $100 million in remaining debt on the dome, so if they can get an interest rate of around 4% they should be good to go there. It’s still doesn’t explain how the city will now pay off the convention center debt that it’s currently using some of the tax money to cover, but at least it exists.
  • While including $160 million from the sale of seat licenses as part of the public portion is a bold move, no doubt Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to want PSL money to cover his share of the cost. So calling it public funding is going to be contentious, to say the least.
  • $187 million in tax credits: Whaaaa? The $50 million from the Missouri Development Finance Board is discussed above, and there’s been discussion of maybe $30 million in federal Brownfield credits. Other than that, if Nixon and friends have specified what other tax credits they’re thinking of, I’ve missed it (and so has Google).

In other words, we’re still looking at a funding gap of at least $100 million here, though presumably somebody has at least an idea of where to ask for it, even if it’s not completely public yet. And even then, we’re talking about only (“only”) $388 million in public cash, which, while more than the entire last stadium cost, is still less than Nixon had promised. Whether that’d be enough to make Stan Kroenke and the NFL happy enough not to move the team to L.A., assuming it all eventually gets approved, is the $388 million question — if nothing else, it should make for some interesting conversations in NFL board rooms along the lines of “Jeez, Stan, take the free money,” though you know no one’s going to say it out loud for fear of blowing the chance to shake Missouri down for even more.

(Or maybe Kroenke really will just require the people of St. Louis to build the stadium with their bare hands. Some things, after all, money can’t buy.)

Which NFL teams will go to LA? No one can predict, but here are some predictions anyway

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about yesterday’s NFL non-action around moving teams to L.A. or not — in short, the owners of the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers submitted presentations on the same L.A. stadium plans that we all already knew about, then no one decided anything — and while I was thinking, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin went and did it for me:

It’s a simple matter of math at this point. The NFL is going to move at least one team—Giants owner Steve Tisch says “it’s better than 50-50” that a decision will be made by the 2016 season—and Oakland is the only chopping-block city currently unwilling to offer its team’s ultrawealthy owners hundreds of millions of dollars to stay. Mark Davis has no attachment to the Bay; sentiment doesn’t factor into it.

Good for Oakland, honestly. It—like St. Louis, like San Diego, like every single American city—has much more important things to spend its limited funds on. But this remains sad news for Raiders fans, who seem likely to lose their team, possibly as soon as next year. It’s not fair, but the NFL has all the leverage, because if Oakland won’t make any concessions, there are other cities that will. The only way the stadium scam will ever be stopped cold is if politicians everywhere simultaneously decide sports leagues don’t deserve handouts. It’s hard to see that happening in the near future. It’ll be even harder when politicians look at football-less Oakland, and know the NFL will be more than happy to call their bluff.

Well, maybe. Undeniably, Oakland has the least close to anything resembling a viable football stadium plan: Whereas St. Louis is offering the Rams to go halfsies on a stadum and isn’t sure how it’ll come up with its half, and San Diego has a plan to pay for maybe a third of a stadium that the Chargers hated the minute it left the presses, Oakland has hopes that maybe one day there will be a plan that can actually debated, but not very strong hopes at that. So with three teams and five slots (counting L.A. as two), it’s hard to picture Oakland not ending up an empty chair when this is all over.

That said, it’s never as simple as all that. What happens next is the NFL owners all sit around and figure out how to decide on which teams should most logically move for next season — oh, sorry, they figure out how to exploit the current situation to make the most money. For the time being (the course of the 2015 season, certainly), that should mean speaking ever more loudly about how two teams will be moving to L.A. in 2016, in order to keep fans and elected officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland panicked that they not be one of the two.

What happens, though, if — okay, when — we get to January and the three non-L.A. cities are still all in their various states of incomplete deals? Sure, you can set ever-shorter deadlines, you can fly Roger Goodell into town to frighten the state legislature, but eventually you need to decide whether to have your bluff called or not. Which means deciding whether to take the offers on the table from existing cities, or selecting Door #2, whether that be Inglewood or Carson.

And here’s where we run into unknowns again, because we simply don’t have a clue how lucrative the L.A. market is compared to the certain cost of being on the hook for paying for virtually all of the cost of building stadiums in Inglewood or Carson. And for that matter, the NFL may not know either. It all remains a massive game of chicken with unreliable information all around, which is no doubt one reason why the league has been stalling as long as it can, in the hopes that somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d see three options. In one, Rams owner Stan Kroenke gets approval to move to L.A., then either the Raiders or Chargers join them. Whichever team is left out immediately starts threatening to move to St. Louis in order to get a better deal out of it current home town. In the second, the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson as planned, and Kroenke probably takes whatever deal he can get in St. Louis, though he’d lose a ton of leverage at that point. (One reason why option one is more likely to be approved by the NFL.)

Option three is the status quo: The NFL owners can’t come to an agreement, and decide to let things drag on into 2016. I’m not sure I’d say it’s likely — there’s little to be gained from stalling much longer than they have already — but it is 100% possible. Just keep in mind that none of this has to do with what makes sense: It’s a bunch of people demanding ransom in a chaotic situation, and those can often end in unexpected ways.

St. Louis mayor: No need for vote on Rams stadium subsidy, because football is “fun”!

If you saw Tuesday’s report that the city of St. Louis had lost its defense of a referendum requirement for any spending on a new Rams stadium and wondered, “Hey, given that the city is for the Rams stadium and was against the referendum requirement in the first place, how hard did they really fight for it?”, well, you can start wondering a lot harder:

Mayor Francis Slay said Wednesday that he would not call for a public vote on a new downtown football stadium, nor would he appeal a judge’s decision invalidating the city ordinance requiring such a vote.

Moreover, a National Football League team is so important to the region and its residents, the city does not have to break even on its investment in the new stadium, Slay said in his first interview after the judge’s ruling this week.

“Having an NFL team in a city is really, I think, a huge amenity,” he said. “It’s one of the things that make living in a big city fun.”

Okay then! The mayor thinks that the NFL is fun, fun enough to be worth losing money on (he doesn’t say how much money), so why ask his constituents what they think? That’s what Rudy Giuliani would have called the absence of leadership, though some people might have another word for it.

Anyway, there’s still a chance that Jeanette Mott Oxford and friends will be able to intervene with an appeal of this week’s ruling, so stay tuned. I’d say it’s a sad day when citizens have to sue their city to get it to enforce its own laws, but then Giuliani was ahead of the curve on that, too.

St. Louis judge tosses out ballot requirement for Rams stadium, says voters didn’t say “Simon says”

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.

Missouri proposes $50m Rube Goldberg funding scheme for Rams so no one notices it’s spending $50m

The state-run St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority is set to ask for $50 million in state tax credits for a new St. Louis Rams stadium tomorrow, something that isn’t entirely a surprise, given that this has always been part of Gov. Jay Nixon’s stadium funding plan. Way down at the bottom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, though, there’s a tidbit that’s worth exploring further:

Under one option to be presented to the finance board, the Dome authority would donate $100 million raised for the project to a nonprofit entity, which would then contribute $100 million to the board’s Infrastructure Development Fund.

In return for this contribution, the board would issue $50 million in tax credits to the nonprofit, which in turn would sell the credits and donate the proceeds to the Dome authority. The application says it expects to get about 95 cents on the dollar for those tax credits.

That’s a whole lot of paper-shuffling, but the interesting bit is at the end, where the state would be issuing $50 million in tax credits, but the Dome authority would only be getting $47.5 million in proceeds. That’s not a huge difference, but $2.5 million is $2.5 million, which raises the question: Why not just have the state give $50 million to the project directly, instead of mucking around with funneling money through tax credits and nonprofits?

I’m guessing here (Missouri locals and/or public finance experts, correct me if I’m wrong), but my assumption is that it’s so the headlines read “Dome authority to ask for $50 million in state tax credits” and not “Nixon proposes giving $50 million more to Rams.” It comes to the exact same thing, but for whatever reason some people think of tax expenditures as different from public spending, so apparently it’s worth $2.5 million to keep up this charade.

Rose Bowl nixes hosting NFL team, L.A. temporary stadium options down to Coliseum or playing in street

The Pasadena-controlled board that owns the Rose Bowl voted this week not to bid to provide a temporary home to an NFL team in Los Angeles, saying they would rather host an annual music festival instead. (The music festival wouldn’t be during the NFL season, but its environmental impact statement requires that the Rose Bowl not host pro football if the festival takes place.)

This still leaves the NFL with a bunch of options, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno report, they’re all problematic. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are baseball stadiums, and not only does the NFL hate playing in baseball stadiums, but baseball teams hate sharing digs with football, which messes up their schedule and tears up the grass. The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson only holds 27,000 — though NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis tried to put a happy face on this to the L.A. Times, saying, “There’s something interesting about playing in a smaller facility, to start with creating a scarcity of tickets and increase the level of interest early on,” yeah, right — and is run by AEG, which already has no love for the NFL after having its own downtown L.A. stadium plan shot down.

That leaves the L.A. Coliseum, which would be fine but for two things: First off, USC’s lease on the Coliseum only allows it to host one NFL team, which would be a problem if, say, both the Raiders and Chargers needed temporary homes while waiting for a new stadium to be completed. Second, it’s really hard to get a bidding war going with only one serious bidder, so any team wanting to bunk at the Coliseum temporarily likely just saw its prospective rent go up.

This probably isn’t enough to be more than a speed bump en route to a new L.A. NFL stadium (and team), but given that the finances of such a project already look shaky enough, you never know which is going to be the speed bump that breaks the camel’s back. (Yeah, I know the metaphor doesn’t really make sense, work with me here.) The fight to be the future home of the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams still seems like a battle that no one can possibly win — it’s one reason I don’t expect any resolution soon, but I guess we’ll get some hints, maybe, following the August owners’ meetings.

Missouri won’t disclose possible illegal Rams spending on grounds it’s getting sued for illegal Rams spending

What did St. Louis, which already has more Rams stadium lawsuits than anyone can keep track of, need most? Why, another lawsuit, of course:

The suit says the Dome authority is “attempting to avoid disclosure of records that would indicate the nature of planned public expenditures for a new football stadium,” and asks the court to force the Dome to hand them over.

The backstory, as explained in the above-linked St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: law professor John Ammann and former state rep Jeanette Mott Oxford, who are already suing over a bunch of other things around the proposed Rams deal, got curious as to whether the state-run dome authority was illegally spending money on a new stadium plan without a public vote. So they filed a public records request for all communications surrounding the stadium plan.

At which point the dome authority said it couldn’t turn any of them over because of — you can’t make this stuff up — “pending litigation,” citing one of the other suits it’s facing, this one from several state legislators, over illegally spending money on a Rams stadium. And promptly got sued again, this time by Ammann and Oxford. It’s not quite the classic definition of chutzpah, but it’s close.

 

St. Louis countersues Missouri to block Rams stadium, hopes to actually lose?

The city of St. Louis has countersued against the state of Missouri’s suit claiming that it doesn’t need the city’s permission to build a new Rams stadium with public money. The new counterclaim says that not only does an existing city law apply that requires a public vote on any new stadium expenditure, but the state stadium authority doesn’t have the right to build a stadium where it wants to anyway:

The state law that allowed for the building of the Jones Dome — and is being used to authorize construction of a new stadium — required the dome to be located “adjacent to an existing convention facility,” the counterclaim says.

But the proposed new stadium, the city’s filing argues, is “located on the other side of a road” from the America’s Center and the Jones Dome, where the city currently hosts conventions.

That’s a pretty hardball stance for the city to be taking, and maybe should be taken as an indication that the mayoral Gang of Four is starting to have influence in other cities as—

Mayor Francis Slay is publicly supportive of the new stadium. City Counselor Winston Calvert said this suit gives the city a chance to get answers sooner rather than later.

The counterclaim, he said, “is a reflection of the fact that everybody is ready to get these issues resolved and move on.”

Okay, or maybe not.

The concern that St. Louis officials aren’t really interested in fighting the state’s suit — even to the point of filing counterclaims just in hopes of getting them dismissed — is precisely why several St. Louis residents have filed a motion to intervene in the suit as defendents, fearing that the city isn’t really going to mount a defense. I spoke with one of those residents on Friday, former state representative Jeanette Mott Oxford, who explained that she has standing in this case because not only was she one of the original petitioners who got the referendum on the ballot, but she once stayed in a local hotel and paid the hotel taxes that would be diverted to fund the new stadium. The case should go to trial soon: Oxford mentioned a June 25 trial date, but that may have been a different lawsuit, there are so many. We haven’t yet seen the state or the city suing itself over this mess, but I expect it’s only a matter of time.

 

USA Today report on NFL LA move may violate own unnamed source rule, says source close to journalism

Stop the presses! USA Today reported on Friday that it’s heard the NFL is exploring where a team could play temporarily in Los Angeles, maybe, while a new stadium was possibly being built, if that happens, possibly, says some guy:

The league plans to soon begin talks with existing stadiums in the Los Angeles area in an effort to provide temporary housing for any team or teams that might relocate there, if any, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

This is totally expected, since the league needs to do due diligence if it’s going to consider approving a move of either the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and/or Oakland Raiders. And, for that matter, it’s also totally expected that the NFL might want to leak this to the papers for their own purposes, as a way of turning up the heat on St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland to get new stadium plans in gear already, instead of mucking around with whether it would be legal or whether it makes any sense. You might even wonder if USA Today is being used by the league here for PR purposes, with the whole “asked not to be identified” thing serving as cover so the NFL doesn’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions.

In fact, let’s see what USA Today’s editorial ethics policy has to say about basing stories on the testimony of unnamed sources:

The use of unnamed sources erodes our credibility and should be avoided.

Okay, that’s not a good start. But what about when, you know, you really really don’t want to avoid it?

The identity of an unnamed source must be shared with and approved by a managing editor prior to publication. The managing editor must be confident that the information presented to the reader is accurate, not just that someone said it. This usually will require confirmation from a second source or from documents…

Anonymous sources must be cited only as a last resort. This applies not just to direct quotes but to the use of anonymous sources generally. Before accepting their use for publication, an editor must be confident that there is no better way to present the information and that the information is important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust. This is not to be taken lightly…

Unnamed sources should be described as precisely as possible. Additionally, reporters and editors should explain why the source could not be identified and if possible, add any information that establishes the credibility of a source on the subject matter in question.

Obviously, we as readers have no way of knowing whether USA Today’s managing editor signed off on this, whether a “second source or documents” was provided, and whether the information was “important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust.” Still, at best, this seems like bending the “Don’t use unnamed sources unless absolutely necessary” rule for the sake of a juicy headline, even if it’s not a story that necessarily tells anyone much of anything. Which goes on all the time, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better a way of running a journalistic railroad.