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Kansas proceeds with plan to pay for Chiefs’ stadium

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Kansas is making a serious run at becoming the new home for the reigning Super Bowl champions with legislators approving a plan Tuesday to lure the Chiefs and Major League Baseball’s Kansas City Royals away from Missouri.

Bipartisan legislative supermajorities OK’d the measure to authorize state bonds to help finance new stadiums and practice facilities for both teams on the Kansas side of the metropolitan area of 2.3 million residents, which is split by the border with Missouri. Three Super Bowl victories in five years — and player Travis Kelce’s romance with pop icon Taylor Swift — have made the Chiefs perhaps the area’s most celebrated civic asset.

The plan from the Republican-controlled Legislature goes next to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. While she stopped short of promising to sign it, she said in a statement that “Kansas now has the opportunity to become a professional sports powerhouse.”

Both the Chiefs and the Royals said they look forward to considering Kansas options. The lease on the Missouri complex with their side-by-side stadiums runs through January 2031, but both have said they already should have been planning for the future.

“We’re excited about what happened here today,” Korb Maxwell, an attorney for the Chiefs who lives on the Kansas side, said at the Statehouse after the bill cleared the Legislature. “This is incredibly real.”

Voters and economists aren’t sold

The approval capped a two-month push to capitalize on the refusal in April by voters on the Missouri side to continue a local sales tax used to finance the upkeep of the teams’ stadiums.

Backers of the plan brushed aside decades of research by economists concluding that government subsidies for professional sports stadiums are not worth the cost. They also overcame criticism that lawmakers were moving too quickly.

A spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But in Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas promised to “lay out a good offer” to keep both teams in town.

“Today was largely, in my opinion, about leverage,” Lucas said. “And the teams are in an exceptional leverage position.”

Some Kansas officials reached the same conclusion.

“I think the Chiefs and the Royals are using us,” said state Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Kansas City-area Democrat.

The votes on the Kansas stadium-financing plan were 84-38 in the state House and 27-8 in the Senate. Lawmakers from across the state — even western Kansas, far from any new stadium — supported the measure.

It would allow state bonds to cover up to 70% of each new stadium, paying them off over 30 years with revenues from sports betting, state lottery ticket sales and new sales and alcohol taxes collected from shopping and entertainment districts around the new stadiums.

House Commerce Committee Chair Sean Tarwater, a Kansas City-area Republican, said the Chiefs still are likely to spend $500 million to $700 million in private funds on a new stadium.

“There are no blank checks,” Tarwater told GOP colleagues during a briefing.

Tax cuts or stadium bills?

Legislators debated the plan during a one-day special session called by Kelly to have them consider reducing taxes after she vetoed three tax-cutting plans before legislators adjourned their regular annual session May 1.

Republican leaders had promised that the stadium proposal wouldn’t come up until the Legislature first approved a plan to cut income and property taxes by a total of $1.23 billion over the next three years. Many lawmakers argued that voters would be angry if the state helped finance new stadiums without cutting taxes.

With the tax bill passed, the stadium plan gained support even from lawmakers who saw it as a handout for wealthy team owners. Some said failing to act risked pushing the teams to leave the Kansas City area, and a few said they had wanted the Chiefs in Kansas since childhood.

“It is amazing to me the speed with which we can solve problems when they’re oriented around wealth, when they’re oriented around business,” said state Rep. Jason Probst, a Democrat from central Kansas.

Yet Probst voted for the bill.

“This is the system that we’re stuck in, so if we choose to opt out of that system, we will lose every time,” he said.

Economists who study pro sports teams have concluded in dozens of studies that a new stadium and shopping-and-entertainment area merely takes existing economic activity away from elsewhere in a community, resulting in little or no net gain.

“It could still help Kansas and maybe hurt Missouri by the same amount,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith college in central Massachusetts who has written multiple books about sports. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

A skeptical state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Kansas City-area Republican, used a Christmas Eve metaphor to characterize supporters’ excitement before she voted no.

“There are visions of sugar plums,” Baumgardner said.

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