A Missouri House appropriations subcommittee has stripped out the $12 million state appropriation that primarily would pay off the debt on the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
And while the legislative budget process is far from over, the action places half of the facility’s yearly debt payments into jeopardy.
Besides the state, St. Louis and St. Louis County both contribute $6 million toward the Jones Dome. The facility is slated to receive debt payments until 2021.
The committee’s move comes after a failed effort to build a riverfront football stadium. Before the St. Louis Rams relocated to Inglewood, Calif., many lawmakers from both parties were alarmed at how Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, appeared ready to issue state debt for that proposed facility without a legislative or statewide vote.
And Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, warned in January that the Legislature might consider taking the Jones Dome appropriation out of the budget.
Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, said on Monday that the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Authority declined an invitation to discuss the matter before the committee that he chairs. It is expected to testify before the House Budget Committee on Wednesday.
“I think it’s wrong for the governor to have gone about the process with the lack of transparency in the way that he has,” Ross said. “Frankly, the RSA was invited to come before this committee. They’ve thus far chosen not to show up and not to answer the questions. And I think this is an appropriate result lacking their forthcomingness.
“Budgets are a matter of priorities,” he added. “For the money to have attempted to be used in the way that we saw in this past year, this is me protecting the taxpayers. I don’t want to see another public funded effort to the tune of a half billion dollars that are going to indebt our kids and grandkids along the way.”
Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said that he wants Nixon’s administration to release documentation showing how the governor’s office could legally issue debt for the scuttled riverfront stadium without a legislative or statewide vote.
“The Office of Administration has claimed for over a year that they have a letter from bond counsel saying that what Gov. Nixon tried and failed to do was authorized by the state constitution and state statutes,” Barnes said. “Now that the NFL stadium scheme is dead, there’s no reason for that to remain secret. In fact, there was no reason for it remain secret before.”
'Paying our bills'
Nixon spokeswoman Channing Ansley said in an e-mail that it was part of the state’s obligation to continue paying off the Jones Dome.
“Fiscal discipline means paying your bills, and this is very early in the budget process,” Ansley said. “That's why the governor is confident that the General Assembly, as it has done each and every year since the agreement was entered into by Gov. [John] Ashcroft's administration, will continue to fulfill this financial obligation and help preserve Missouri's AAA credit rating.”
Added House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis: “Missouri has a AAA credit rating. And I can’t think of a worse thing to do that would cost taxpayers more money than not pay our bills.”
Both Ross and Silvey have noted that the Jones Dome appropriation is a lease that can be terminated at any time. But Ross also noted that it’s still relatively early in the budgetary process, which isn’t supposed to wrap up until May.
“The budget is in a fluid process,” Ross said. “This is one stop along the way. I sit on the full Budget Committee – and there will be another opportunity for changes at that point. There will be another opportunity for changes at the full House level. And once the budget leaves the House, then it goes to the Senate. There will be a number of stops along the Senate side of things.”
Ross went onto say that until, “there’s some satisfaction and the production of these different documents that [Barnes] has called for, I don’t see that money getting back into the budget.”