Jackson County leaders vote to put Royals, Chiefs stadium tax on ballot

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature has voted to put a stadium sales tax extension on the April ballot, but there are still some questions and uncertainties.

County leaders voted 8-1 at their meeting Monday to put a question on the ballot, asking voters to approve a 3/8th-cent sales tax for 40 years.

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“It’s another good step in the process,” Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan said when asked what he thought of the 8-1 vote.

Donovan and Kansas City Royals President of Business Operations Brooks Sherman were both in attendance. Sherman would not comment at all on camera. As soon as Donovan gave his statement, he hugged Legislative Chairman DaRon McGee, who sponsored the ordinance.

“Hell of a job man,” Donovan said to McGee.

What to know

The legislature’s move comes after the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs announced they’re committed to staying in Jackson County, pending voters’ approval of the tax.

The teams also said they will provide over $200 million in economic benefits for the county — including insurance coverages, reallocating park property taxes and a “robust” community benefits agreement.

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If approved, the sales tax revenue would go toward stadium projects for both teams. The Royals plan to build a new $2 billion ballpark district and have been looking at locations in Jackson and Clay counties. The Chiefs have said they plan to renovate Arrowhead Stadium.

“To have this on the ballot in April allows them to not only get the tax that they’ve already been getting from taxpayer citizens, but now go to the state and the city to get this done, and we want to keep the Royals and the Chiefs here,” McGee told reporters after Monday’s vote.

The Royals have previously said they narrowed their decision down to two locations: a location in the East Village of downtown KC and a location in North Kansas City.

But the owners of the former Kansas City Star building at 16th and Oak streets are still pushing to get the Royals to move to the Crossroads instead.

Clay County Commissioner Jason Withington posted Friday to social media that the Royals told North Kansas City and his county they’ve “put all the chips in on the KC Star building.”

Veto concerns

In addition to uncertainty about the exact location of the new stadium, there’s also some concern County Executive Frank White could veto the ordinance.

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White wanted the county legislature to hold the ordinance for another four days as he planned to meet with the teams again this week.

The county executive wanted more than just the park levy and insurance cost concessions the teams agreed to on Friday. He also wanted an extra $25 million per year from the teams. Democratic Legislator Charlie Franklin asked him during Monday’s meeting what an extra four-day hold on this issue would do.

“Well hopefully, Legislator Franklin, we can get together with the teams and have further discussion,” White said.

“Hopefully get to a point where everyone’s on the same page, so when this does go before you for a vote that I would be on the same page as the legislators that vote that day, so I won’t have to be against it.”

That statement was made before the nine legislators voted. Afterward, White didn’t say officially whether he’d veto the ordinance. He did call the current deal the Chiefs and the Royals have the “best deal in sports” though.

Community benefits agreement

White also said Monday he believes the county “can achieve more before we commit to placing this on the ballot,” including a “strong and enforceable Community Benefits Agreement.”

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White issued the following statement Monday:

“As our county legislature prepares to vote on the proposal to place the ballpark project on the April ballot, I want to express my respect and understanding for the roles and responsibilities of our esteemed legislators. The decision before them is not an easy one, and I am very aware of the immense political pressures involved in such significant civic decisions.

“I understand the complexities and challenges of these discussions and want to reassure everyone that my commitment to collaboration remains strong. Regardless of the vote’s outcome, I am dedicated to working closely with legislators, our sports teams and all stakeholders. This commitment holds true whether the issue reaches the ballot or not. My office is ready to continue constructive engagement in every step of this process, ensuring the best outcomes for all involved.

”Over the past months, my administration has worked diligently to improve this deal for the taxpayers of Jackson County. We have successfully negotiated several concessions from the teams, which I believe are steps in the right direction. However, I firmly believe that our county deserves and can achieve more before we commit to placing this on the ballot.

“A key component that must be addressed is the establishment of a strong and enforceable Community Benefits Agreement. This agreement is vital to ensure that the project delivers tangible and lasting benefits to our community. Additionally, we need a solid and enforceable agreement that includes the costs associated with the demolition of Kauffman Stadium. It is essential that we fully understand and prepare for these financial implications.

“Furthermore, it is crucial to secure a commitment that both teams maintain their front offices and training facilities in Jackson County for the duration of the lease. This commitment is not just a matter of local pride; it is also about economic stability and the sustained growth of our county.

“In closing, I want to reiterate my respect for the legislative process and the difficult decisions our legislators are facing. My office remains ready and willing to continue our efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for Jackson County and its residents.”

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Less than a half hour before Monday’s meeting began, Stand Up KC, a group advocating for low-wage workers, said the Royals were willing to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement. Stand Up KC is in favor of the team’s move.

The Royals then issued a statement Monday, saying the franchise’s commitment to a “strong CBA is and always has been unwavering.

“The history of both the Royals and our ownership group are focused on positive community impacts with a particular emphasis on underserved communities,” the team said.

“We have studied successful CBAs both locally (including the new airport terminal) and nationally (including the Milwaukee Bucks, Tampa Bay Rays and Buffalo Bills) and expect to include many of those elements.

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“With our commitment to Jackson County made clear last week, we will engage with community leaders and organizations to solidify a transformative CBA that will strengthen our hometown.”

Stand Up KC is calling for the CBA to include the following policies:

  • Hiring from zip codes with high unemployment rates

  • Wage floor that reflects a living wage

  • Fair process to organize unions without employer interference

  • Protecting the jobs and union contracts of current stadium workers

  • Guarantee of truly affordable housing and avoidance of displacement

What’s next?

White has 10 days to veto something the legislature passes. Then legislators would need a supermajority to override White. If Monday’s 8-1 vote holds steady, the legislature would have that supermajority.

“Get on board,” McGee said when asked what he would say to White after Monday’s meeting.

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McGee also released a statement Monday:

“All along, I’ve wanted to ensure that Jackson County voters had an opportunity to have their voices heard on the next chapter of our sports stadiums. Today’s vote of the Legislature makes that happen.

“Securing the best deal possible for taxpayers has been a priority for me. Through recent negotiations, we’ve been able to save the county hundreds of millions of dollars. Both teams have now agreed to give up the annual park levy, to pay their own insurance, and have agreed to a written commitment to enter into community benefit agreements.

“I’m proud of where we are today and appreciate my colleagues’ support of this legislation. We will continue to work diligently with the teams to negotiate the leases, development agreements, and community benefits agreements.”

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McGee added that the final terms of the agreement between the county and both teams will be presented and made available to the public before the April election.

If voters approve the new stadium sales tax, the existing tax funding the stadiums will be repealed, McGee said.

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