Jackson County Executive vetoes stadium tax on April ballot

January 18th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- Jackson County Executive Frank White on Thursday vetoed an ordinance passed by the county legislature that would have let taxpayers decide whether to extend a stadium sales tax to help fund a new downtown Royals ballpark and renovations at the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium.

County legislators voted 8-1 on Jan. 8 on putting a new 3/8th-cent sales tax on the April 2 ballot, which would replace the current tax that supports the county’s leases with the Royals and Chiefs at the Truman Sports Complex. The current stadium leases there expire in 2031.

But White, a member of the Royals’ Hall of Fame, had 10 days to veto that ordinance, and he did so Thursday afternoon – the last day to issue the veto.

“This proposed sales tax would generate over $2 billion from our residents, yet there is no clear understanding or assurance regarding the teams’ commitments and contributions to the county,” White said in a statement. “It’s not a good deal for taxpayers, and I cannot support an agreement that is not in their best interest.”

The ordinance passed with overwhelming support on Jan. 8 because it gave the legislators and teams time to continue negotiating agreements related to the stadium. But as of Thursday afternoon, four county legislators – Jeanie Lauer, Megan Marshall, Jalen Anderson and Sean Smith – publicly supported White’s veto. Legislators need a supermajority – six of nine votes – to override it.

As it stands now, the teams do not have those votes. The deadline to put an issue on the April ballot is Tuesday, Jan. 23.

“We respect the County Executive’s veto authority,” the Royals and Chiefs said in a joint statement Thursday. “We will continue working with the legislators to ensure that this ordinance is on the ballot on April 2 so that Jackson County voters have the opportunity to decide on the extension of the current 3/8-cent sales tax.”

The four legislators who supported White’s veto stressed there are still several issues they’d like to resolve before putting the ordinance on the ballot, including new lease agreements with the county, which has been a sticking point for White.

"While I am anxious to put the issue of the Stadium Tax on the ballot for voters to decide, I do have an obligation to ensure that the key terms have been sufficiently agreed to by all parties before this goes to the vote of Jackson County citizens," Smith said in a statement. "Without such documentation that is clear and unambiguous, and signed by all parties involved including the teams, the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority and the County, it would be extremely irresponsible to leave this on the ballot for April.”

Other unresolved issues, according to legislators: a Jackson County resident preference plan, a commitment to keeping front offices and training facilities within the county, transitioning insurance responsibilities to the teams by 2025, restoring $3.5 million annually from the county’s park levy by ‘25, a fair rental/licensing fee, stadium demolition, a community benefits agreement, the specific location for the Royals’ new downtown ballpark, the Chiefs’ detailed plan for improvements to Arrowhead and their vision for the complex post-Royals relocation, and a private capital investment.

Smith said that though some terms had been “verbally agreed upon” by the team, there still wasn’t a signed memorandum of understanding or letter of intent.

“We want to remind everyone that we have seven years remaining on our current deal, with additional election dates available in 2024 and beyond,” Lauer, Marshall and Anderson said in a joint letter. “This provides us with ample opportunity to negotiate thoughtfully and thoroughly. Our approach is anchored in a deep commitment to the welfare and prosperity of Jackson County residents. We urge the teams to engage in these discussions with the sense of responsibility and collaboration.”

The Royals’ vision is to build an estimated $2 billion ballpark and surrounding district under a public-private partnership. However, they have not indicated the precise location of where the new ballpark would be built. They have explored an East Village location and a South Loop location, where the former Kansas City Star printing press building still stands on McGee Street, sandwiched between the Crossroads District and the Power and Light District.

In a joint statement issued on Jan. 5, the Royals and Chiefs pledged their commitment to staying in Jackson County if the stadium tax passed, and they’ve agreed to cover insurance coverage for their respective facilities that are currently paid for by Jackson County. They also pledged to provide Jackson County the ability to reallocate each team’s share of an existing park property tax for other county uses.

Together, the teams said these concessions “would provide more than $200 million in new economic benefits to Jackson County over 40 years in a new lease agreement,” according to the statement.

But White has hoped to get further concessions, including many of the unresolved issues the legislators laid out in their statement on Thursday. An agreement is still possible before Tuesday, and the county legislature meets on Monday, when legislators would have their last opportunity to override the veto.