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Lawmakers stage all-out blitz on Nixon's ability to extend stadium bonds by fiat

A rendering of the proposed riverfront stadium
Courtesy of HOK
A rendering of the proposed riverfront stadium

After being stuffed in the General Assembly, skeptics of a proposed riverfront stadium in St. Louis are taking their fight to court.

Six lawmakers filed a suit Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court to, among other things, prevent Gov. Jay Nixon from “extending” state bonds paying off the Edward Jones Dome to fund the new stadium. Office of Administration Director Doug Nelson contended earlier this year that Nixon had such authority, which spurred unsuccessful bills to force either a legislative or statewide vote on the matter.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is one of six lawmakers who is suing to stop Gov. Jay Nixon from extending bonds for a new stadium by fiat.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is one of six lawmakers who is suing to stop Gov. Jay Nixon from extending bonds for a new stadium by fiat.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, has said he’s not necessarily against a new stadium in St. Louis – but he is adamantly opposed to Nixon funding it without legislative approval or a public vote. He said in an interview on Thursday that he and other lawmakers wanted to head Nixon off at the pass before he extended bonds by fiat.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the governor intends to move forward – or else they wouldn’t be spending a million dollars,” said Schaaf, referring to how the Regional Sports and Convention Complex Authority has already spent money on consulting and designs for the project. “And I don’t think that it’s proper. So, we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”

Among other things, the lawsuit contends:

  • State law doesn’t allow the Regional Sports Authority to extend bonding debt in a way that increases the principal owed.
  • Extending bonds would violate a state law that bars bonding from going beyond 50 years.
  • State law requires the stadium to be “adjacent to” a “convention facility.” Currently, St. Louis’ convention center is more than a half a mile away from the proposed stadium site.
  • The Regional Sports Authority has too many Democrats on its board, and therefore is illegally making decisions on spending money.
  • The Regional Sports Authority’s spending on consultants and planning for a new stadium is going beyond the legislative appropriations process.

(Click here to read the lawsuit.)

“It doesn’t matter that this issue is about the stadium in St. Louis. It could be about any funding issue,” Schaaf said. “It’s about legislative and executive power and authority, and indebting the state without approval. It’s not a stadium issue. It just happens to be about the stadium.”

Besides Schaaf, state Reps. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, Mark Parksinon, R-St. Charles, Rob Vescovo, R-Jefferson County, Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, and Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, signed onto the lawsuit. 

State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette

“I felt like this lawsuit was a good fit for me, because voters elect people like me to office expecting us to speak up for them and make sure that laws are being followed,” McCreery said in a telephone interview. “And I would like to see the law followed first of all. If the governor and the commission want to proceed the way they’re going, they could have approached the legislature during the regular session – which they did not. Or the governor can call a special session and get the law changed.”

Nixon’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit. When a spokesman for a two-person stadium task force was asked if there was any reaction to the suit, he replied: “No. Thanks.”

The lawmakers’ lawsuit is yet another legal battle in the bid to build the new football stadium.

Earlier this year, the Regional Sports Authority sued the city of St. Louis over an ordinance that requires a public vote to publicly fund stadiums. Among other things, the RSA contends the ordinance is unconstitutional – and that it shouldn’t apply to a bond extension.

Arguments in the case (and a motion for several stadium skeptics to intervene) were supposed to take place today. But the judge -- St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Dowd – postponed the hearing due to  illness.

Rapid response

While Nixon and the stadium task force have been mum about the newest lawsuit, some backers of the roughly $1 billion proposal took to Twitter to harshly criticize the involved legislators:

Both McCreery and Schaaf said the Tweets did little to move them from their position that there should be some sort of vote to approve the state-funding portion of the new stadium.

“I’ve been to all the professional soccer exhibition games that have come through town – including the women’s soccer game against New Zealand about six weeks ago,” McCreery said. “I go to anything I can go to – I love sports and all kinds of sports. So it’s not that I’m opposed to a professional team staying in St. Louis. It’s the way the governor and the sports authority are going about it that caught my eyes as a legislator.”

Some have even accused lawmakers like Schaaf and McCreery of being bought off by St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who unveiled plans to build a largely privately funded stadium in Inglewood, Calif. (It should be noted that Kroneke’s company spent heavily to fast-track the Ingelwood stadium proposal.)

With a bit of a chuckle, both Schaaf and McCreery flatly denied that Kroneke somehow compromised them. McCreery said “I’ve never interacted with Stan Kroenke before,” while Schaaf added “I wouldn’t know what he looks like.”

“I’ve never spoken to him,” Schaaf 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.” 

Schaaf, by the way, terminated his campaign committee after he won his second term to the Missouri Senate. That means he’s ostensibly not taking donations from anyone, let alone Kroenke.

“I’m not running for anything. I’m term limited,” Schaaf said. “I really don’t care what those people say about me. They can’t un-elect me or prevent me from getting elected again. Because I’m not running for anything again.” 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.