Lawmakers grill A’s leadership, boosters during stadium pitch
April Corbin Girnus
(Nevada Current) One might assume that a governor would not call a legislature into single-issue special session unless they were relatively certain they had the votes needed to achieve their desired outcome. But the temperature of the Nevada State Legislature on day one of the 35th Special Session suggests that may not be the case this time around.
Gov. Joe Lombardo has convened the Legislature in special session to consider a $380 million public assistance package for the Oakland A’s, which wants to abandon their crumbling Coliseum for a 30,000-seat semi-retractable stadium to be built for $1.5 billion at Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue, where the Tropicana Casino is currently. The 35th Special Session began Wednesday, one day after the brief 34th Special Session Tuesday to pass a capital improvements budget that had failed to pass before the mandatory adjournment of the 120-day regular session on Monday.
The Nevada State Senate on Wednesday held a committee hearing with all 21 of its members to consider Senate Bill 1. The bill is identical to one introduced in the final two weeks of the regular legislative session. It involves up to $180 million in transferable tax credits issued by the state, up to $120 million in Clark County-issued bonds, and a $25 million credit from the county toward development costs.
“You’ve all called us in here for a special session and are asking, minimally, for the state to give you all $36 million per year for the next five years for a taxpayer-funded stadium at the same time that the governor has vetoed funding for summer school, a bill to support children’s mental health, a bill requiring paid family leave,” said state Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas), adding that those vetoes were “all because the governor said we couldn’t afford them.”
Nguyen continued, “Can you explain to me why we need to provide hundreds of millions of dollars for a billionaire team to come to the Las Vegas Strip on some of the most valuable property in the world if we can’t provide critical resources like summer school and health care?”
Las Vegas Conventions and Visitors Authority President Steve Hill, who also chairs the Las Vegas Stadium Authority Board, responded that he couldn’t speak to those issues but said the baseball stadium would create “thousands of new jobs” and increase overall revenue to the state, which the state could then use to provide things like summer school and health care.
State Sen. Fabian Doñate, whose district includes the proposed ballpark site, said residents are concerned about the workers who will be displaced by the closing of the Tropicana Casino and the stadium’s impacts to traffic.
“Many of us have shared our frustration that we just finished a session and now we’re back here to consider a tax giveaway for a multi-billionaire without concessions made from the Athletics,” he added.
Doñate also instructed Athletics leadership to come to the Senate floor for questioning, saying taxpayers deserved to hear directly from the baseball organization.
When A’s President Dave Kaval arrived in the room, Doñate asked more than once if the team would commit to paying the state’s live entertainment tax, which is assessed on ticketed events like music concerts but not on local professional sports team games due to an exemption written into law for the Raiders.
Doñate pointed out that LET paid by other businesses is one of the 17 sources of funding the bond repayment. He called this an inequity the A’s should attempt to fix.
Kaval sidestepped answering, saying the legislation at hand “does not contemplate that.”
“I find that disingenuous,” responded Doñate. “I asked you directly. You’re going to be capturing this (LET) as part of your legislation, yet you can’t even commit to doing it yourself.
Doñate proposed removing the local pro sports team exemption for LET, or removing LET as one of the funding streams for the bond repayment.
But Las Vegas is different
Other senators suggested possible areas for amendment, including formally codifying commitments to give back to the community and clarifying who is responsible for any road and infrastructure improvements that become necessary around the stadium site.
The biggest pushback on the proposed stadium came from state Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), who questioned the “rosiest” scenario attendance and revenue projections being used to justify the use of public funds. Harris also asked Hill and Jeremy Aguero, a prominent local consultant who is working with the A’s and presented the stadium proposal alongside the LVCVA’s Hill, what he and other project planners had determined was the “opportunity cost” – the benefits to the state of spending $380 million on elsewhere.
Aguero said his firm was hired only to help devise the stadium plan, not consider opportunity costs.
Harris also pointed to research and reporting indicating an overwhelming majority of economists do not believe publicly funded stadiums pay themselves off.
“I think you’re in the minority,” Harris told Aguero..
Aguero responded that Las Vegas is different from, for example, Des Moines or Tallahassee building a stadium or arena for their residents as a community asset.
“We are in the minority relative to the structure of our economy and our revenue system,” said Aguero. “There is nowhere else in the United States that has the level of visitors and contributions that we have here. It is what sets us apart from everywhere else.”
Both Aguero and Hill worked on the $750 million room tax public subsidy for the football stadium project that became Allegiant Stadium.
Senators who vocalized support for the baseball project — namely Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert — pointed to Allegiant Stadium as proof that stadiums provide a boon to the Las Vegas economy. Seevers Gansert pointed to Billboard data naming Allegiant Stadium the number one large venue in 2022 with 24 shows hosting 1 million attendees and grossing $182 million.
Supporters also pointed to the financial success of T-Mobile Arena, the privately funded home of the Vegas Golden Knights. T-Mobile Arena was listed by Billboard as the 4th top venue of its size in terms of gross ticket sales.
“Las Vegas is so unique,” said Seevers Gansert, who represents part of Reno. “These numbers prove it.”
The A’s are projecting 95 ticketed events per year at the stadium — 82 A’s games, five concerts, three “other sporting events” and five “community events.” Hill said they believe the venue will attract events like the MLB All-Star Game or motorsports events that could not be accommodated by Southern Nevada’s existing venues.
The Senate Committee of the Whole took no action after their hours-long hearing Wednesday. The A’s are expected to propose an amendment, likely on Thursday. They will need a simple majority of support to pass. If they receive that, SB 1 will head to the Assembly, where it will be heard by their Committee of the Whole.
The 2016 deal that led to Allegiant Stadium passed with two-thirds majorities in both chambers. Support did not split across party or geographical lines. Several lawmakers who cast votes for the Raiders are still in the Legislature. State Sens. Ira Hansen (R-Sparks), Robin Titus (R-Wellington) and Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) all served in the Assembly at the time and voted against the football stadium, as did state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, who was in his second term.
State Sens. Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) and Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) were both senators and voted to approve the football stadium deal.