As Kansas lawmakers push STAR bonds in attempt to lure Chiefs and Royals, opponents are pushing back

While some Kansas legislators say they’ll use their upcoming special session to push a bill meant to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals to their side of the state line, opponents are raising serious questions about the strategy.

The bill, originally introduced by state Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stillwell, would authorize billions of dollars in Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) bonds to finance construction of up to two new stadiums in the state. Though it wasn’t taken up during the session that ended May 1, proponents hope it will be taken up during the special session slated to begin June 18.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, and Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, have joined Tarwater, coming out publicly in support of the legislation. 

With the Chiefs fresh off back-to-back Super Bowl victories, a feat not accomplished in the NFL for almost 20 years, proponents hope to bring the issue before the legislature while interest in the team is perhaps at an all-time high.

Last week, Hawkins and Masterson reportedly attempted to woo Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, sending him a letter asking the team to “weigh in” and calling it the NFL’s “flagship franchise.” At the same time, Tarwater took to local airwaves to promote the bill.

In an interview with Soren Petro on 810 Sports in Kansas City last week, Tarwater claimed it doesn’t create any new taxes.

“It’s like a destination tax,” he told Petro. “If you use the stadium or go visit the businesses it creates, then you’ll be paying sales tax, but no more than you would anywhere else in the state of Kansas. So, there will be no increase.”

However, when addressing details such as how much the new stadiums would cost, and the amount of bonds that would be issued versus how much the team or teams might pay out of pocket, his response was vague.

“The only requirement of the bill is that [the project will be for at least] a billion dollars,” he said. “I don’t know how much [is] going to come out of their pocket — but some of the numbers I’ve seen, around $500 million is their part.”

But while arguing all the risk would be on the teams and those who invest in the STAR bonds, Tarwater admitted there is still a lot of work to do to convince the public to get on board with the plan.

“That’s the heart of the whole pushback,” he acknowledged. “People just aren’t receiving that message. You could argue that the area might be developed eventually anyway, but certainly not like it will be if the Kansas City Chiefs come to town — or the Kansas City Royals come to town.”

However, opponents aren’t so sure the plan is all it’s cracked up to be.

Local talk radio host Pete Mundo questioned whether the bill, if passed, would actually provide any new benefit to Kansans.

“Kansans who want to ‘steal’ the #Chiefs are fools,” he posted on X Friday. “Right now, you get an incredible deal. You only pay a 3/8 cent tax when you do business in Jackson County [Missouri] (how much of that you do is your choice). You assume zero risk.

“You get the perks of being in the KC Region in what is the new Title Town. Most people around the country don’t know, and don’t care, whether the Chiefs play in Missouri or Kansas. It’s meaningless. No one cares that the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey.

“What are you gaining? Pride? Ego? It’s all meaningless for the average fan. Politicians, by way of their donors/lobbyists, see potential business and financial benefits. That does nothing for Average Joe Fan. But if you want to be a pawn in their game, I guess that’s your right. And big promises for economic development around a new stadium? Have you been to Arrowhead lately? Drive around the neighborhood? Open your eyes. And use your brain.”

Patrick Tuohey, director of policy for the public-policy nonprofit Better Cities Project, agrees with Mundo and raises even more serious questions.

“Here’s the question I ask myself: What is the benefit to Kansans to have the team move across state line?” he told the Heartlander. “What are they getting that they don’t have now? One could say that they would have the pride of the Chiefs being in Kansas, but what is that actually worth to them?”

Tuohey points to a 2023 Kennesaw State University study that found “the extensive body of research on the economic impact of stadiums demonstrates that professional sports venues generate limited economic and social benefits, which fall far short of the large public subsidies they typically receive.”

Tuohey also questions the assertion that these STAR bonds pose little or no risk to the taxpayer, noting the STAR bond debacle Platte County, Missouri, is still dealing with after issuing the bonds to finance its “Zona Rosa” development project in 2007.

“Proponents say that there is no risk to taxpayers in floating STAR bonds,” he said. “I am skeptical of that, because this particular STAR bond would be the biggest [Kansas} has ever issued. And I can’t imagine the sales tax generated from less than a dozen games a year would be enough to pay for a 2 to 3 billion dollar stadium.”

“If the organization were to default on the STAR bonds, proponents say only bondholders will take the hit, not taxpayers. But I don’t think that’s really how the world works. Because, a default like that would affect Kansas’ ability to issue future STAR bonds. So, the state or municipality would have an interest in making sure those bond payments are met.”

“When Zona Rosa defaulted on their bonds, taxpayers were not on the hook, but Platte County’s credit rating took a hit when they refused to make up the difference. So again, moving the Chiefs to Kansas introduces some risk, and does not seem to offer any reward that Kansans don’t currently enjoy simply by driving to Truman Sports Complex.”

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