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Jackson County Legislature defies Frank White to put Chiefs and Royals stadium funding on ballot

A rendering of the inside of a baseball stadium shows cheering fans during a game.
Kansas City Royals
This rendering from design firm Populous shows what a new Royals baseball stadium would look like in Kansas City's East Village. The Royals have not yet picked a site for the ballpark entertainment district.

The Jackson County Legislature overrode County Executive Frank White's veto just over 24 hours before the deadline to finalize the April ballot. Jackson County voters will now get to decide this spring whether to fund the teams' stadiums through a 3/8ths cent sales tax for the next 40 years.

Jackson County voters in April will vote on whether to renew a crucial stadium sales tax for the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs, after legislators overrode a last-minute veto from the county executive just before the deadline to finalize the spring ballot.

The final 7-2 vote from the Jackson County Legislature follows County Executive Frank White’s Thursday veto put its placement on the April ballot in jeopardy. The legislature needed at least six votes — out of nine total — to override White’s veto. The legislature didn’t have enough votes at first, as legislators Jalen Anderson, Jeanie Lauer, Megan Marshall and Sean Smith said they supported White’s veto on Thursday.

But in the days since, Anderson and Smith seemed to change their minds, giving the legislature the numbers it needed. And it faced a tight deadline: the ballot question for the April election has to be finalized by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Anderson said in a statement that meetings with the Royals, Chiefs and the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, and feedback from constituents who wanted a say on the issue, changed his mind.

Legislators Megan Marshall and Jeanie Lauer voted to sustain the executive’s veto.

“To place $2 billion in taxes on the ballot without legally binding agreements from both teams — which would ensure if the ballot measure passes, taxpayers actually receive what they voted for — goes beyond mere good faith,” Marshall said. “It is irresponsible.”

The ballot question will ask whether to renew the existing 3/8ths cent stadium sales tax for 40 years to fund the Royals’ new baseball stadium and the Chiefs’ still-undisclosed plans for Arrowhead Stadium. The election will take place April 2.

The teams have said their future in Jackson County hinges on April passage of the 3/8ths cent sales tax.

The Royals still have not announced a final location for the stadium. Team owners are deciding between the East Crossroads, at the site of the former Kansas City Star printing press, and the East Village near downtown.

When White issued his veto on Thursday, he asked for “deeper reflection and negotiation” before putting the tax to the public. Following the legislature’s action on Monday, White said both teams’ future plans in the county are still uncertain.

“Right now everything's in limbo,” White said. “This is the biggest deal that I've seen where it encompasses this much money over so many years where teams aren't willing to sit down at the table and hash these things out.”

Neither team has negotiated new leases or development agreements with the county. Neither team has signed contracts for the future — but representatives with the Royals and Chiefs and Jackson County officials say they’re making progress.

White said it’ll be crucial for the county to finalize leases with the teams before the April vote.

“Jackson County taxpayers really deserve a better shot from these clubs in terms of being transparent, letting them know where things are gonna go, how much it's gonna cost, what's the investment, and what it's gonna mean to them personally,” he said.

In a statement before the legislature meeting on Monday, White said the teams signed the letter of intent adopted by the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority. That non-binding document outlines terms for the Chiefs and Royals’ future with the county.

White said there are still several unresolved issues, including the absence of a final site location for the Royals, enforceable leases, a commitment from the Chiefs to keep its training facilities and headquarters in Jackson County and a community benefits agreement. Workers rights groups have been advocating for such an agreement to guarantee living wages for stadium workers and affordable housing.

In a joint letter from the Chiefs and Royals, the Royals committed to finalizing a site location by Feb. 29. The Chiefs and Royals also committed to “substantial private contribution” to their respective projects, but did not specify how much money that entails.

Mark Donovan, president of the Kansas City Chiefs, said voters should decide whether to renew the sales tax. He said the team will share more details on its renovation plans at Arrowhead Stadium before April 2.

“We’ve been strategic on exactly when we wanted to share that information, (and) felt like we wanted some things to be solidified before we did that,” he said. “That’s our next step.”

The teams and county are still negotiating how to pay for the demolition of Kauffman Stadium. White has maintained he does not want the county to pay for it. The Royals said in the joint statement that team and county representatives are considering financing options that would not put the county on the hook.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas supported the legislature’s move to put the issue before voters in April.

“Over the months ahead, I look forward to working with the county, our state, the Chiefs, and the Royals to build a positive future for professional sports and entertainment that brings revenue and outstanding memories for generations of Kansas Citians,” he said in a statement.

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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