The opening words of a resolution passed by the Missouri Legislature in 2001 stand in stark contrast to Gov. Jay Nixon’s contention that elected officials deserve no say in whether taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are tapped to subsidize a billionaire’s National Football League investment in St. Louis.
“WHEREAS, Section 21.527, RSMo., requires that certain projects to be funded by revenue bonds shall be approved by the General Assembly,” begins the resolution, which related to the new University of Missouri basketball arena now known as Mizzou Arena. “WHEREAS, the General Assembly is desirous of approving a project for a sports arena ...”
Nixon knows those words well. He wrote most of them.
He was the state’s attorney general, but, more importantly, the intermediary between his alma mater and the anonymous donor of arena seed money (then-Blues owner Bill Laurie). Nixon was then, as he is now with a new NFL stadium in St. Louis, front and center in favor of using public funds to build a massive monument to this nation’s obsession with big-time sports.
Then, as now, Nixon’s role was controversial. Then, as now, a billionaire was calling the shots.
In 2001, though, Nixon recognized the obvious: Public money should not be committed to a sports stadium project, whether for the university or a professional team, without either a vote of the people or their elected representatives.
These days, the governor swims in a sea of contradictions.
For the television cameras and sports columnists, he is the man leading the charge.
For the Cole County judge who heard a challenge filed by state lawmakers questioning the governor’s authority to commit state money to the project without legislative approval, he was just a bystander. Nothing to see here, the governor’s lawyers argued on his behalf. Jay Nixon who?
Lately, the governor has gone so far as to suggest that economic development projects are not worthy of legislative approval. It is as though the two biggest economic development deals of his tenure as governor — massive taxpayer subsidies handed out to Ford and Boeing to keep them in Missouri and hopefully entice job growth — are but a mirage. Both of those deals required a special session of the Missouri Legislature and votes by local elected bodies.
If you are a Rams fan, of course, such process concerns are like a referee from the No Fun League calling a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration after your team scores the winning touchdown. Who cares?
You want NFL football in St. Louis, and you don’t care about the economics, or the civics, of making it happen.
I get that. I am a lifelong sports fan. From almost the day I was born, I have bled the blue and orange of my beloved Denver Broncos. Last year, like tens of thousands of my ilk, I walked out of the still completely functional Edward Jones Dome, head hanging low, stunned at the sudden realization that Peyton Manning was old.
My new sports columnist colleague, Benjamin Hochman, jumped on the stadium bandwagon after his first interview with the Stadium-Cheerleader-In-Chief, pointing to Coors Field in my hometown as a great example of what a stadium can do to revive a distressed area.
Neverminding the clear difference between a stadium open for 81 dates in a city like Denver with mild summers, vs. one open for eight games a year, much of it during the doldrums of a Midwestern winter, Hochman’s mention of Coors Field is apropos for one very important reason:
The people of Denver voted to build that stadium.
Actually, and there is another great lesson for St. Louis here, voters in a six-county region voted yes to approve a 1-cent sales tax to help fund the stadium.
If memory serves me correctly, I was one of them.
And given a chance, I would likely vote to fund an NFL stadium in St. Louis. Not because it would signal economic nirvana, but because it is as important culturally to me as the zoo, the art and history museums and the botanical garden.
But Nixon, and Mayor Francis Slay, who first vowed to “vigorously” defend a city law requiring a public vote, and then joined Nixon’s cheerleading squad the moment Judge Thomas Frawley threw taxpayers under the bus, are actively working against a public vote.
To me, that trumps every reasonable argument in favor of the stadium.
Jeannette Mott-Oxford agrees. The former state representative, who helped found the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums that led to the now bypassed city law, is hopping mad over the lack of public process for a project that won’t get built without a massive taxpayer subsidy.
“When it comes to sports, we socialize the risk and privatize the profit. And that frosts my pumpkin,” she says. “The lack of transparency is appalling.”
In Missouri, if taxpayers don’t pay for schools, they go unfunded. If a city doesn’t pass a bond issue to buy new firetrucks, as happened in St. Louis in August, the firefighters have to make do.
But billionaires wanting to shave costs off of their monuments to greed?
They stand arm in arm with elected enablers from the porticos of our public buildings, tossing crumbs to the voters below.
Let them eat cake. Just don’t let them vote.