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Jackson County executive vetoes sales tax measure to fund Royals and Chiefs stadiums

The Texas Rangers play the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium as a sunset lights up the sky during a baseball game in Kansas City, Missouri, Monday, June 27, 2022.
Colin E. Braley
Associated Press
The Royals hope to replace the 50-year-old Kauffman Stadium with a new facility, but have not decided where to put it.

The Royals have yet to choose a final site for the team's ballpark, but have said that they want the current 3/8th-cent stadium sales tax renewed for 40 years to fund the project. That renewal is no longer slated for the April ballot in Jackson County after county executive Frank White vetoed the measure.

Jackson County voters may not get the chance to weigh in on a 3/8th cent ballpark sales tax in April after all, after Jackson County Executive Frank White vetoed the legislature’s plan Thursday.

The legislature needs six votes to override the veto, and must do so before ballots for the April election are finalized on Jan. 23 at 5 p.m.

In a statement, White said the discussion on the sales tax requires “deeper reflection and negotiation before progressing to a public vote.” He said the county needs a more robust commitment from the teams before promising taxpayer money.

“As of now, without binding agreements, we are poised to commit public resources without a clear understanding of the benefits and assurances for Jackson County.”

At least four legislators — Jeanie Lauer, Megan Marshall, Sean Smith and Jalen Anderson — support White’s veto.

The Jackson County Legislature voted 8-1 on Jan. 8 to put a sales tax measure on the April ballot that would help fund the ballpark.

The measure would have renewed the current 3/8th-cent sales tax for 40 years, with the revenue split evenly between the Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The legislature’s advancement of the measure cleared one key hurdle for Royals owners, who indicated the 3/8th-cent sales tax is crucial to fund the new stadium.

Legislator Megan Marshall was the lone no vote.

White, who has provided a strong dissenting voice in the stadium discussions, had asked the legislature to hold the measure for four days. He wanted the county to negotiate more with the Royals and potentially extract more concessions.

“I always believe that when you're moving into something this dynamic, then you ought to have a lease agreement in place before you put it on the ballot,” White said following the vote.

In 2006, when the stadium sales tax previously went on the ballot, the Royals had a lease agreement in place before the April election.

The Royals have not chosen a site for the proposed $2 billion ballpark and entertainment district. The team is reportedly considering three locations: the East Village in downtown Kansas City, the East Crossroads at the site of the former Kansas City Star building or North Kansas City in Clay County.

However, the Royals promised to remain in Jackson County if voters approved the stadium sales tax.

It’s unclear when the Royals will make their final decision. Jackson County Legislator Manny Abarca IV said taxpayers should know the site location before the April election.

“That would be ideal,” Abarca said. “I think for the ballot, the people need to know where they're gonna have a team.”

Neither team has finalized a lease agreement with the county, and their current lease at the Truman Sports Complex ends in 2031.

White said the team’s ask for a new stadium seems to be a want, rather than a need.

“I think taxpayers deserve a lease, a signed lease,” White said. “I think that when it's open like this, who knows when they'll come back to the table.”

White also says he wants a community benefits agreement with the Royals, which workers rights groups have said is crucial to guarantee a living wage for stadium workers, union jobs, and affordable housing in the stadium district.

White said that such a deal is “vital to ensure that the project delivers tangible and lasting benefits to our community.”

Before the legislature’s meeting on Jan. 8, workers rights groups said the Royals agreed to negotiate a community benefits agreement with them.

“If you're not at the table, you're on the menu,” said Stand Up KC leader Terrence Wise. “So to be at the table and have a voice and to be able to negotiate anything is definitely a victory.”

Another of White’s demands for the Royals was an agreement that covers the costs associated with the demolition of Kauffman Stadium and a commitment that both the Royals and Chiefs maintain their front offices and training facilities in Jackson County for the duration of the lease.

White told the legislature on Jan. 8 that he requested $25 million annually from the Royals and Chiefs, which would amount to $1 billion over 40 years. White said that ask is still being negotiated.

“This commitment is not just a matter of local pride; it is also about economic stability and the sustained growth of our county,” White said in a statement.

Later that day, the Chiefs joined the Royals to issue a joint statement committing to stay in Jackson County if voters renewed the sales tax. The Chiefs said the tax would fund an “extensive renovation” to Arrowhead Stadium.

The statement also helped assuage concerns that the teams may jump state lines in search of a more lucrative deal.

The Royals also committed to covering the insurance costs of a new stadium for the 40-year duration, which the team claims will save Jackson County $80-100 million.

The teams also said they would not ask Jackson County for revenue collected from the park levy, which currently provides $3.5 million annually to the Truman Sports Complex. The Royals receive half of those funds.

The Chiefs and Royals said that such concessions would save the county about $200 million in total.

Updated: January 18, 2024 at 3:50 PM CST
This story was updated on Jan. 18 at 3:45 p.m. to include Frank White's veto.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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