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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

On the Trail: Aldermen feeling the pressure to decide on stadium funding bill

Most observers agree that Reed doesn't have a majority of the Board of Aldermen aligned with him. That means he's sometimes at the losing end of some big-ticket issues -- or he ends up supporting initiatives from Slay or other aldermen.
File photo by Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed could play a decisive role in the fate of a stadium financing plan.

With the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee expected to vote on a stadium financing package on Thursday, Alderman Chris Carter is getting pressure from unusual sources – like the general manager of his gym.

The 27th Ward Alderman is one of five “stadium skeptics” on the Ways and Means Committee. For Alderman Tammika Hubbard’s legislation to pass, at least two of the five (Carter, Aldermen Antonio French, Scott Ogilvie, Sam Moore and Terry Kennedy) would have to vote for the bill – or one would have to vote 'yes' or be conveniently absent so Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed could break a tie.

Carter’s gym manager provided no ambiguity on how he should vote.

“He said, ‘Look man. I hate being at home on Sundays and just ran down this long list of stuff.’ And then he was like ‘If you vote no on this, I’m cancelling your membership,’” said Carter last Friday. “I was like ‘Are you serious?’ And he started laughing and was like ‘Yeah!’”

But it’s more than just football-mad gym guys who are pressuring the Board of Aldermen. NFL owners will probably decide in mid-January if the St. Louis Rams are heading to Inglewood, Calif., which doesn’t give the board much more time to make a decision.

Alderman Chris Carter, right, has taken a dim view of the stadium situation.
Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Aldermen Chris Carter, right, and Antonio French are both members of the Board's Ways and Means Committee.

While covering an owners’ meeting near Dallas last week, David Hunn of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was basically telling aldermen that they need to hurry the heck up and act. When he was told that the board might provide final passage of the financing package after the end of December, the billionaire businessman told Hunn: “Yeah, that’s not going to help him.” (Reed said he'd be willing to take the board into extra time to pass the stadium bill before a NFL-mandated deadline.)

While the NFL can pretty much do whatever it wants, McNair’s comments bring up an obvious question: Isn’t it a little off-putting for an admittedly successful man in Houston to be telling St. Louis policymakers to decide on something that will affect the city’s finances for nearly three and a half decades?

“What the reality looks like from Houston, I don’t know,” said Alderman Antonio French, a 21st Ward Democrat who is on the Ways and Means Committee. “But here in St. Louis, we have a lot of issues we have to deal with. We have to deal with our financing and what we can actually afford. And so, I appreciate that we have deadlines. But we have priorities. We have other deadlines as well. And we have citizens who still want us to take care of the basic needs.”

For his part, Reed noted that if the board had simply passed Hubbard’s bill immediately, they would have agreed to a financing plan that uses naming rights as collateral to help build the stadium. As Hunn reported last week, that aspect of the funding package has changed in the wake of the latest owners’ meeting.

And Reed also took issue with Tweets about how he would definitely be voting in favorof the stadium plan. He said his decision on the matter depends on what the final product looks like.

“Now, if we get an opportunity to change that bill so that we can put into some minority and women owned business components, some oversight and change some of the other language … Then I’d be something that I could support,” Reed said. “So it depends on what is finally up for a vote.”

Still, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen Conway doesn’t think aldermen are under any sort of undue pressure. Rather, he said some members of his committee “have had issues and items that they wanted to see or have happen.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steven Conway, D-8th Ward, expects a number of hearings on a stadium funding bill. Conway is a CPA and plans to analyze the financial costs of the legislation.
Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steven Conway, D-8th Ward

“This has been before us since August and September. And there are a variety of aldermen have special wants and needs. And they have to be accommodated,” Conway said. “Sometimes politics is like making sausage and it’s a slow process. The owners of the football teams around the country, they can do what they want. But we’ve had this for quite a while. Everyone has known of the January deadline for three months. So it’s not like it’s something new and they’re hurrying up and imposing upon us.

“There’s a lot of politics involved – all over the place, direct and indirect with respect to this,” he added. “And those things have to be accommodated, because that’s the process we have in America.”

As for Carter, he said aldermen still have a lot of work to do on firming up the proposal’s minority inclusion plan.

“We are still working on that,” Carter said. “But I definitely want to see as many black people and women get jobs more than anything else on this project – if it’s going to go through. We aren’t anywhere near finalizing that.

“As of right now just by gauging a few of the committee members, I don’t think it’s going to pan out in the Rams’ favor,” he added.

What do you mean?

Even if aldermen pass a stadium financing plan and NFL owners stop the Rams from leaving St. Louis, there’s no guarantee that the riverfront stadium will instantly materialize. That’s because the financing plan requires St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s buy in – and that may not get done right away if the Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders block each other from leaving their respective markets. In that scenario, it’s entirely plausible that Missouri’s next governor could have to decide whether to issue state bonds for the stadium without a legislative or statewide vote – a topic this reporter explored a few weeks ago.

Attorney General Chris Koster speaks a press conference Thursday in St. Louis with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri's Dan Glaizer.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Attorney General Chris Koster was asked to elaborate on his stadium stance last week in St. Louis.

That article quoted Attorney General Chris Koster: “If the project is revenue positive to the state, it is important for the legislature during the upcoming general assembly session to have an opportunity to record their views.” And at first glance, “record their views” seems somewhat ambiguous. Does that mean lawmakers should get to vote this session to give Gov. Jay Nixon the authority to issue stadium bonds? Or does it simply mean lawmakers should opine on the topic, but not actually vote on anything?

When pressed last week in St. Louis to explain his ‘record their views’ statement, Koster said: “I think it’s up to them and it’s up to their leadership as to how they want to record their views.”

“And I don’t have any inside knowledge as to what legislative leadership has been saying to Gov. Nixon on this process,” Koster said. “The legislature has known about the proposal … since [early this year]. Which gave them the entire legislative session to opine on it one way or another.They didn’t. They chose not to. They have the ability to call themselves back into special session at any point in time. They know that. And they have not done that.

“And so when they get back, if they see fit to record their vote in any of a variety of ways, that is up to the speaker and the president pro tem,” Koster said.

Koster was then asked if he would issue bonds for the stadium without a legislative or statewide vote if he became governor. His reply:

“I don’t even know if the issue is revenue positive yet. If the issue is not revenue positive, then it shouldn’t even be considered. So I’m going to let Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz and the Republican leadership work through this process before I prejudge it. But my belief is it has to be revenue positive. It should be considered like any other economic development project. If it’s not revenue positive to the state, it should be swept from the table. But as I said in my statement to you, I think that it is better for the legislature record their vote – as they’ve had a chance to do now for nearly a year.”

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics. 

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