By GABE STERN (Associated Press/Report for America)
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — The Oakland Athletics’ search for a new home drew Nevada lawmakers into a special legislative session Wednesday to weigh whether the state should cover $380 million of the $1.5 billion stadium planned for the Las Vegas Strip.
Representatives from the A’s and tourism officials, mirroring many of the talking points from a hearing just over a week ago, pitched the project as an economic success in a late afternoon presentation to senators, who have mostly kept quiet about how they will vote.
The bill has revived the national debate over public funding for private sports clubs. A’s representatives and some tourism officials argue the measure could add to Las Vegas’ growing sports scene and act as an economic engine, but a growing chorus of economists and some lawmakers have warned that such a project would bring minimal benefits for a hefty public price tag.
Lawmakers’ questions Wednesday were mostly skeptical or doubtful, while a few Republicans in the minority indicated support.
Democratic Senator Rochelle Nguyen was visibly frustrated as she recounted a previous hearing for the bill, and the concerns about what many called a lack of public benefits from the plan. She questioned why the state Senate would consider stadium funding while initiatives for summer school and paid family leave were vetoed by the governor due to their cost.
“Lobbyist after lobbyist after lobbyist” said they would enhance community benefits after the previous hearing, she said.
“And yet, what is before us today is the same exact bill that we heard 10 days ago,” she continued. “To say I’m extremely disappointed that no work has been done on this bill over the past 10 days is an understatement.”
The public funding would mainly come from $180 million in transferable tax credits and $120 million in county bonds. Backers have pledged that the creation of a special tax district around the proposed stadium would generate enough money to pay off those bonds and interest. The plan would not directly raise taxes.
The A’s would not owe property taxes for the publicly owned stadium. Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, would also contribute $25 million in credit toward infrastructure costs.
The proposed 30,000-seat stadium would be the smallest in Major League Baseball
Several lawmakers referenced many sports economists who say that potential benefits of stadiums are not worth public funding, even as more cities and states are putting up hundreds of millions or billions of dollars for new facilities.
But Jeremy Aguero, an economist and founder of Applied Analysis, a data research firm partnering with the A’s, has long said that Las Vegas’ tourism-based market would suit a baseball team better than any other city.
In a study his firm conducted — and paid for by the A’s — he estimated that 405,000 people per year would not have visited Las Vegas if not for stadium events. Those visitors stay in hotels and spend money in resorts and restaurants at higher rates than they would in other cities, Aguero said.
“I think in this instance, you’re probably in the minority here of people in your profession,” said Democratic Senator Dallas Harris.
“The difference is not that I am different,” Aguero responded. “The difference is that we are different as an economy, which sets us apart.”
The Legislature adjourned Monday after its 120-day, biennial session with disputes over one of the five major budget bills that funds capital improvement projects. On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo held a special legislative session to pass that bill.
Lombardo’s office had introduced the stadium financing bill with less than two weeks left in the regular session. It is unclear how many days the second special session will last. The state Assembly is set to hear the bill on Thursday, and amendments could still come for the bill.
Special sessions are fairly common in Nevada’s Legislature, which lasts for four months every other year. There have been seven since 2013 for a variety of reasons — pandemic protocols,statewide redistricting, budget disputes and approval for $750 million in public funding to help build Allegiant Stadium when the Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, representatives from Oakland are not giving up on keeping the A’s in their backyard.
California Democratic U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred asking MLB not to “subsidize or otherwise encourage the relocation” of the A’s, saying neither the team or the league have negotiated “in good faith” with the city of Oakland.
“The A’s are not only planning a move away from Oakland, @MLB is incentivizing them to,” Lee said in a tweet. “Today, I asked them to stay out of the way.”
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao agreed in a subsequent tweet, reiterating her support to keep the club in Oakland.
The A’s have been looking for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season. The team previously sought to build a stadium in Fremont, California, as well as San Jose and finally the Oakland waterfront — all ideas that never materialized.
Manfred has said that a vote on the Oakland Athletics’ prospective move to Las Vegas could take place when owners meet June 13-15 in New York. ___
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service that places journalists in newsrooms. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.