Missouri Stadium Funding Plan Is Bad Policy, Possibly Illegal
In a quest to build a new riverfront stadium to keep the Rams in Saint Louis, some state and local leaders are trying their very hardest to make sure that virtually no one has a vote on the matter. At the state level, the governor plans to issue new debt without any legislative approval. At the local level, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA), which owns the dome, wants to extend city bonds without a public vote. They have sued to overturn an ordinance requiring such a vote.
We’ve already discussed the RSA’s unconvincing arguments against the ordinance requiring a public vote in the city. Summing up the matter:
The lawsuit’s proponents argue that the city’s ordinance is broad and vague, prevents the city from participating in planning and site preparation, and contradicts state statutes. In fact, the ordinance is doing precisely what it is designed to do: prevent the city from using every trick in the book to fund a new stadium without a vote.
At the state level, a group of legislators have sued to prevent the governor from unilaterally extending bonds. They essentially argue that the bonds in question were passed with the express purpose of funding the Edward Jones Dome, not a riverfront stadium. Whatever the courts decide on the issue, a reading of the original statutes certainly makes it seem like they have a case.
Stadium proponents argue that the failure of the state legislature to pass a clarifying law in the last session means this suit is without merit. That argument makes little sense; existing laws do not lose effect when more specific guidelines fail to pass. But stadium proponents go further, impugning the motives of the legislators who filed the suit, essentially claiming they did not care about Saint Louis. Gov. Nixon publicly joked that they hatched the plan at a Chiefs game. And of course, the stadium backers continue to argue what a boon a new stadium will be to Saint Louis. In doing so, they contradict nearly every economist who has ever studied stadium subsidies.
Whatever position one takes on the plan, spending $400 million of public money on an NFL stadium is certainly controversial. It seems only right that Saint Louisans should get to vote on the spending of the money, as they were promised. It seems only right that the legislature should have to approve more state spending. As to those who are willing to circumvent any democratic roadblock to keep the Rams, perhaps one senator put it best when he said:
What I’m amazed at is that people’s passion for football exceeds their passion for our constitutional form of government and the rule of law. And how they would place their desire to root for their football team above their desire to have government function properly.