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Missouri Lawmakers Criticize Kansas Attempt to Poach Royals, Chiefs Missouri House majority leader calls Kansas legislation a ‘wakeup call,’ anticipates lawmakers will craft a response to keep teams

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Above image credit: Fireworks go off before a game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri last September. Kansas lawmakers passed legislation that would offer incentives if the Kansas City Chiefs relocate from Arrowhead to Kansas and build a new stadium (David Eulitt | Getty Images).
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State and local officials from Missouri denounced Kansas legislators’ attempt to lure the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals across the state line, saying they would take steps to keep both teams.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, in a statement on Tuesday, said the city and state would continue negotiations with the teams that Missouri and Kansas City have “welcomed, funded and supported … since the 1960s.” 

“We remain in the first quarter of the Kansas City stadium discussion,” Lucas said. 

Kansas lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation meant to help finance new stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals in an attempt to relocate one or both teams from Missouri. The legislation, an expansion of the state’s existing Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) Bond program, could yield hundreds of millions of dollars for each stadium.

It comes after Jackson County, Missouri, voters in April rejected the extension of a sales tax to help finance a new downtown Kansas City baseball stadium for the Royals and upgrades to the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.

Kansas lawmakers who supported the STAR Bond legislation said it was necessary to keep the teams in the Kansas City area.

“We’re in jeopardy of Kansas City losing those franchises,” Kansas Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Leavenworth Democrat, said during debate on the bill Tuesday. “Missouri has dropped the ball. We now have an opportunity to make an offer.” 

After Kansas lawmakers’ vote, Missouri legislators said they hoped and expected to see the state put forward a plan. 

“It’s a wakeup call to Missouri that there are other states that are willing to do whatever it takes to get the teams,” Missouri House Majority Leader Jonathan Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, said in an interview Thursday.

Patterson, who is in line to become speaker of the House next year, said he expected to see Missouri put together a plan after this summer’s primary elections and before the Missouri General Assembly returns for its legislative session in January. He said it was possible legislators would be called back to Jefferson City for a special session but didn’t think it was necessary.

The Kansas legislation would help finance up to 70% of a stadium project — with a minimum $1 billion price tag and 30,000 seats — by issuing bonds to be repaid with the state sales tax collected in the STAR Bond district. Liquor taxes from the district and funds from the state’s legalization of sports betting also could be used to repay the bonds.

The offer remains in place for a year and is limited to National Football League or Major League Baseball teams in states adjacent to Kansas. 

Kansas’ attempt to poach the teams was seen by several Missouri lawmakers as a violation of a truce the two states reached five years ago to stop offering incentives to move businesses back and forth the state line in the Kansas City area. 

But Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, didn’t see it that way.

“The border war was really focused on businesses like AMC Theatres, which went back and forth, back and forth,” Kelly said. “We never discussed teams.”

For years, the two states engaged in an economic development “border war,” offering incentives to companies that jumped the state line, spending taxpayer funds while largely not creating any new jobs. 

“Today’s vote regrettably restarts the Missouri-Kansas incentive border war, creating leverage for the teams, but injecting even greater uncertainty into the regional stadium conversation,” Lucas said Tuesday. 

In a statement Tuesday, Jackson County, Missouri, Executive Frank White Jr. urged state and local governments to abide by the border war truce “and refrain from engaging in a counterproductive stadium bidding war.”

“We must focus on common sense over politics,” White said. “Our resources should be used wisely to improve the lives of our residents, not wasted on bidding wars that only serve to drain public funds and divide our region.”

White said in order to agree to subsidies for a stadium he expects “a complete and transparent plan that offers tangible benefits to our taxpayers.”

“My office remains open to conversations with the Royals, Chiefs, lawmakers, and other stakeholders, but any proposal must meet this standard and make sense for our community,” he said.

Missouri Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, said the border war “didn’t benefit anyone” and saw Kansas’ push to relocate the teams as a violation. 

He said he wanted to see the Missouri Department of Economic Development make an offer to keep the teams, but he didn’t support the idea of lawmakers being called back to Jefferson City for a special session and didn’t want a package that could put taxpayers on the hook. 

“We want to keep the Kansas City Chiefs and KC Royals in the state of Missouri, but we can’t saddle taxpayers with billions of dollars in debt to help finance stadiums,” he said. 

Hoskins, who is running in the GOP primary for secretary of state, said he thought the Kansas plan was based on lofty revenue expectations and that the stadiums wouldn’t generate enough activity to pay off the bonds without additional assistance from Kansas taxpayers. He didn’t want to see Missouri put forward a similar plan.

“Missouri taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for financing stadiums for billion-dollar corporations and multimillion-dollar athletes,” he said. “It’s hard enough being a Missourian right now just trying to keep your own money in your pocket, let alone financing stadiums for a billion-dollar industry.” 

Patterson called the border war talk “somewhat irrelevant.” 

“It’s obvious that Kansas is going to act,” he said, “and I think we should focus on acting ourselves and not crying about some sort of truce that may or may not have been agreed to regarding the teams.”

Allison Kite is a data reporter for the Missouri Independent, where this story first appeared, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.

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