Supporters of bringing the Chiefs to Kansas have narrowed their plan and are promising tax cuts

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas lawmakers hoping to lure the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri are trying to win over skeptical colleagues by narrowing their proposal for encouraging the Super Bowl champions to build a new stadium and by linking it to a plan for broad tax cuts.

The Legislature expected to consider the stadium proposal during a special session set to convene Tuesday. The measure would allow the state to issue bonds to help the Chiefs and Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals finance new stadiums on the Kansas side of their metropolitan area, which is split by the border with Missouri.

Supporters on Monday backed away from an earlier plan to allow state bonds to cover all of the construction costs for new stadiums. Their plan would use revenues from sports betting, the state lottery and new taxes raised from the area around each new stadium.

Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature also said the stadium proposal is their second priority during the special session, behind cutting income and property taxes. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly called the special session to consider tax cuts, but she cannot limit what lawmakers consider — creating an opening for a plan to woo the Chiefs and Royals.

“We definitely need to demonstrate that we’re getting relief to our citizens,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican who is backing the plan.

Many lawmakers have argued that voters would be angry if the state helped finance new stadiums without cutting taxes. Kelly vetoed three tax-cutting plans before legislators adjourned their regular annual session May 1, but she and top Republican lawmakers have drafted a compromise measure to reduce taxes by $1.23 billion over the next three years.

The first version of the stadium-financing plan emerged in late April, but lawmakers didn’t vote on it before adjourning. It would have allowed state bonds to finance all stadium construction costs, but the latest version caps the amount at 70%, and it says legislative leaders and the governor must sign off on any bonding plan.

Supporters of the plan also modified it so that it only applies to professional football and Major League Baseball stadiums, instead of any professional sports stadium for at least 30,000 spectators. Bonds would be paid off over 30 years.

“We’re trying to bring something grand to the state of Kansas,” said state Rep. Sean Tarwater, a Kansas City-area Republican leading the push for a stadium plan.

Free-market conservatives in Kansas have long opposed state and local subsidies for specific businesses or projects. And economists who’ve studied pro sports teams have concluded in dozens of studies over decades that subsidizing their stadiums isn’t worth the cost.

“Most of the money that gets spent on the Chiefs is money that would otherwise be spent on other entertainment projects,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in central Massachusetts who has written multiple books about sports.

Kelly told reporters Monday that she won’t “invest a lot of energy” in a stadium plan, letting lawmakers lead. She and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed an agreement in 2019 to end years of each state using subsidies to steal the other state’s jobs in the Kansas City area, but Kelly argued that their truce doesn’t apply to the Chiefs and Royals.

“We never discussed the teams,” she said.

Kansas legislators consider the Chiefs and Royals in play because in April, voters on the Missouri side of the metro area refused to continue a local sales tax for the upkeep of the complex with their side-by-side stadiums. Missouri officials have said they’ll do whatever it takes to keep the teams but haven’t outlined any proposals.

The two teams’ lease on their stadium complex runs through January 2031, but Korb Maxwell, an attorney for the Chiefs who lives on the Kansas side, said renovations on the team’s Arrowhead Stadium should be planned seven or eight years in advance.

“There is an urgency to this,” added David Frantz, the Royals’ general counsel.

Supporters of the stadium plan argued that economists’ past research doesn’t apply to the Chiefs and Royals. They said the bonds will be paid off with tax revenues that aren’t being generated now and would never be without the stadiums or the development around them. Masterson said it’s wrong to call the bonds a subsidy.

And Maxwell said: “For a town to be major league, they need major league teams.”

But economists who’ve studied pro sports said similar arguments have been a staple of past debates over paying for new stadiums. Development around a new stadium lessens development elsewhere, where the tax dollars generated would go to fund services or schools, they said.

“It could still help Kansas and maybe hurt Missouri by the same amount,” Zimbalist said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

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