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Kansas lawmakers approve massive incentives to attract the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals

The Chiefs could be tempted to relocate to Kansas using the tax incentives approved by lawmakers Tuesday.
Carlos Moreno
/
Kansas News Service
The Chiefs could be tempted to relocate to Kansas using the tax incentives approved by lawmakers Tuesday.

Legislators passed a bill that would open up hundreds of millions of dollars to facilitate construction of major league sports complexes in Kansas that might lure the Chiefs and Royals to jump the state line.

The Kansas Legislature Tuesday took an ambitious step toward bringing the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals to the other side of the state line.

After hours of heated deliberations, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to create special tax incentives for major sports teams to build stadiums in Kansas. The bill will go to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk.

While the governor previously said she wasn’t trying to recruit the Chiefs, she praised the plan in a statement, calling it a bipartisan initiative to drive economic growth.

"Kansas now has the opportunity to become a professional sports powerhouse with the Chiefs and Royals potentially joining Sporting KC as major league attractions," Kelly said.

Kelly will now need to sign the bill or let it become law without her signature to finalize the changes.

It’s the latest in a months-long debate over the future home of the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Jackson County, Missouri, voters rejected a sales tax to fund stadium renovations, which kicked off the interest of Kansas lawmakers to attract the Chiefs and the Royals.

The debate over the proposed tax incentives, called STAR Bonds, defied normal partisan divides.

Critics on both sides of the aisle called the effort rushed and opaque. Despite ultimately supporting the bill, Democratic Rep. Jason Probst said corporate tax incentives shouldn’t be the priority.

“When we have discussions about homelessness, or hunger, or childhood poverty, or any of these issues that are real concerns to people in the state, we do not see this kind of collective effort,” Probst said.

Republican Sen. Virgil Peck said the one-day special session did not provide enough time to fully weigh the benefits and risks of the plan.

“I'm not voting no to the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m voting no to the rapidity of the process that we went through today,” he said.

Others united in bipartisan support of the bill, with many citing memories of growing up rooting for the Chiefs and Royals and excitement at the prospect of bringing the teams to Kansas.

The bill modifies an existing tool known as STAR Bonds. If sports franchises, state economic officials and lawmakers reach a deal, investors would purchase bonds, which are essentially long-term loans. Developers would use that money to help build up to two stadiums and one practice facility in Kansas.

The bonds would be paid back by diverting sales tax revenue generated in the district to repay the loans. Also, any revenue from liquor sales would go towards paying the bonds.

The development would need to cost more than $1 billion and up to 70% of the projects could be funded with the bonds, as opposed to the normal 50% restriction on other STAR Bond sites.

In addition to the financing, the bill also gives the state more power to keep negotiations secret by bypassing the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act. It gives the chairperson of the Legislature Coordinating Council the authority to close meetings on the topic, although votes on an agreement would be made in public.

Any documents related to the deal would be exempt from open records law until an agreement is finalized and executed.

Representative Sean Tarwater, who fielded questions throughout the session on the specifics of the bill, said keeping negotiations secret would help prevent other states from outbidding Kansas.

Lawmakers originally convened in a special session to pass a tax relief package after Kelly vetoed several previous proposals and called them back to work more on the issue. But the STAR Bonds bill overshadowed tax cuts in the weeks leading up to the session.

Before the voting was even done in the Kansas Statehouse, a Missouri official was lamenting the competition. Jackson County, Missouri, Executive Frank White said in a statement that the effort violates a 2019 agreement to end the “economic border war” as the states competed with development resources to attract projects across the state line.

“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 a statement following the Kansas Senate vote, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas voiced his dismay.

“Today’s vote regrettably restarts the Missouri-Kansas incentive border war,” he said.

Zane Irwin reports on politics, campaigns and elections for the Kansas News Service. You can email him at zaneirwin@kcur.org.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link toksnewsservice.org.

Political discussions might make you want to leave the room. But whether you’re tuned in or not, powerful people are making decisions that shape your everyday life, from access to health care to the price of a cup of coffee. As political reporter for the Kansas News Service and KCUR, I’ll illuminate how elections, policies and other political developments affect normal people in the Sunflower State. You can reach me at zaneirwin@kcur.org
As the Kansas News Service managing editor, I help our statewide team of reporters find the important issues and breaking news that impact people statewide. We refine our daily stories to illustrate the issues and events that affect the health, well-being and economic stability of the people of Kansas. Email me at skoranda@kcur.org.