August 26, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) Missouri's legislative budget leaders said they oppose spending taxpayer money on a new St. Louis football stadium, casting serious doubts on whether supporters can cobble together enough money for the facility before an approaching NFL vote on whether to relocate the Rams.

House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan sent a letter Wednesday to Gov. Jay Nixon warning that he will block any effort to put money in the state budget for payments on a new stadium unless the Legislature or voters first approve the additional debt.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer told The Associated Press he doesn't believe there is legislative support for using taxpayer money for a new St. Louis stadium.

Their reluctance further complicates an already fragile plan that requires buy-in from a number of public and private entities to pay for the estimated $998 million stadium.

Nixon, a Democrat, and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority are working to piece together money for a new stadium as a counterproposal to efforts by Rams owner Stan Kroenke to move the team to the Los Angeles area.

''Our mandate is to keep St. Louis as home of the Rams, but only in a manner that makes sense and provides benefit for everyone,'' Dave Peacock, a former Anheuser-Busch executive who is part of a two-person team leading a stadium task force appointed by Nixon, said in a statement. ''We're doing that, and we will continue to do that in the weeks and months to come.''

Plans include $135 million from the state to help the sports authority make payments on bonds for the stadium. Missouri still is paying $12 million a year for debt and maintenance at the Edward Jones Dome, which opened as the Rams' home about two decades ago when they moved from Los Angeles. Flanigan said Missouri is expected to finish making payments in fiscal year 2022.

The plan includes extending bond debt to pay for the new stadium and assumes lawmakers will continue budgeting annual payments.

But Flanigan's letter calls for Nixon first to ask lawmakers for authority for additional debt before requesting that the Legislature set aside more money to pay for a stadium.

''Let me state that I am not opposed to a new stadium in the St. Louis region,'' Flanigan wrote to Nixon. ''However, I am opposed to using state resources, both tax credits and direct appropriations for debt service, for a new stadium before the existing stadium debt is paid for in full.''

Schaefer said at a minimum, some public discussion on the issue is needed.

''I don't think there is any willingness in the General Assembly to take on additional debt ... nor do I have any interest in doing that for a football stadium,'' Schaefer said.

Schaefer and Flanigan's opposition is significant. While several legislators have recently promised to filibuster attempts to include payments on bonding for a new stadium in Missouri's budget, Schaefer and Flanigan, both Republicans, have substantial influence in what actually makes it into the state's spending plan for each fiscal year.

Setting aside money for bonding will be challenging without them. On top of that, Republican Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said he's backing Schaefer and doesn't believe there's enough legislative support for the project.

Not all lawmakers are opposed to a new stadium.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat, called it an ''important project for St. Louis.'' He said the construction could provide jobs in an impoverished area, a sentiment echoed by Peacock, who touted a new stadium as an economic development project that could revitalize downtown St. Louis.

Keaveny was joined by House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, also of St. Louis, in calling other lawmakers' recent public opposition politically motivated.

Both pointed out that plans were presented to the Legislature in January, and Hummel said in a statement that lawmakers ultimately voted for a budget without proposed wording that would have blocked payments for a new stadium.

What legislative resistance means for the future of the project is unclear.

A spokesman for Nixon did not immediately comment on the letter from Flanigan and opposition from Schaefer. Messages left with the sports authority seeking comment on it were not immediately returned.

A Rams spokesman declined comment.

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