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Missouri governor candidates split on incentives to keep Chiefs from moving

Thousands gather for the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVIII parade on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Kansas City, MO.
Julie Denesha
/
KCUR
Thousands gather for the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVIII parade on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Kansas City, MO.

With the Kansas CIty Chiefs’ current lease at Arrowhead set to expire in January 2031, the issue could ultimately fall into the lap of whoever is elected as Missouri's next governor.

The leading candidates to be Missouri’s next governor disagree on whether the state should offer incentives to keep the Kansas City Chiefs from relocating to Kansas.

On Tuesday, the top Republican lawmakers in Kansas announced that they had reached out to the Chiefs organization to urge the team to consider moving across the state line. To sweeten the deal, the state could consider issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds to finance construction of a new stadium.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican and Chiefs superfan, has said he will “do what he can to keep the Chiefs in Missouri.”

But he’s leaving office this year due to term limits. So with the Chiefs’ current lease at Arrowhead set to expire in January 2031, the issue could ultimately fall into the lap of whoever is elected to replace him in November.

And there is a deep divide among the candidates about what, if anything, to do.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, the leading Republican candidate for governor, said he is “opposed to providing taxpayer subsidies to keep sports teams.”

Instead, Ashcroft said, if elected he would focus on public safety, education and lowering taxes “so that Missouri will be a destination state for teams, their players and all economic freedom loving Americans.”

State Sen. Bill Eigel, also a Republican candidate, said he’s confident that “the Chiefs will make the right decision and remain in Missouri, but it won’t be because of taxpayer handouts for sports teams or stadiums on my watch.”

Government, Eigel said, “shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers. I’m going to ensure Missouri is a place where all people can thrive.”

On the other side of the issue in the GOP primary is Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. His campaign manager, Derek Coats, said Missouri deserves a governor “who will fight for jobs and economic growth.”

“Mike Kehoe will not watch passively as other states poach our businesses,” Coats said. “As governor, he will use every tool at his disposal to ensure Missouri is a state that welcomes investment, creates jobs and spurs economic growth.”

State Rep. Crystal Quade, a Democrat running for governor, said that any candidate who “claims they don’t care about the Arrowhead-sized hole losing the Chiefs would create is lying.

“We need to elect leaders who will work with the Chiefs,” she said, “to make sure all sides get a fair deal and keep our Super Bowl Champs playing football in Missouri for decades to come.”

Springfield businessman Mike Hamra, who is also a candidate in the Democratic primary, said Missourians take pride in being the home to the Chiefs.

“State leaders,” he said, “should explore every reasonable option to keep the Chiefs in Missouri.”

Kansas City Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt has previously expressed interest in remaining in the Truman Sports Complex, which is where the Chiefs and Royals have had venues since 1973.

But Hunt made it clear that all options were on the table moving forward after Jackson County voters rejected a sales tax measure earlier this year that would have helped fund renovations to Arrowhead Stadium and build a new downtown ballpark for the Kansas City Royals.

Missouri currently spends $3 million annually on the Truman Sports Complex, part of a deal cut in 1989 to secure financing for construction of the St. Louis stadium now referred to as The Dome at America’s Center.

That 1989 bill was signed into law by Ashcroft’s father, former Republican Gov. John Ashcroft. Those payments would end if the current leaseholders — the Chiefs and Royals — are not using the facilities.

Missouri’s current fiscal year budget also includes $50 million from general revenue for “stadium and ground modifications, transportation, marketing, and additional event support” around Arrowhead for the FIFA World Cup.

The Kansas Legislature will be in Topeka for a special session starting June 18. The focus is tax legislation, but there is no limit on topics lawmakers might consider, which opens the door for discussing an incentives package for the Chiefs.

Near the end of the regular legislative session, Kansas lawmakers briefly considered a proposal to use bonds with 30-year terms to pay up to 100% of the cost of building a new stadium.

The proposal never came up for a vote.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has said she would welcome the chance to lure the Chiefs out of Missouri but that she doesn’t think the state is in a financial position to successfully recruit them.

Missouri legislative leaders told the Kansas City Star Wednesday that they are in no rush to put together a counter offer or reconvene in a special session to discuss the issue.

In 2019, Kelly and Parson both signed off on a truce to the longstanding economic border war between the two states, pledging to end the use of tax incentives to lure companies across the state line that do not create new jobs for the region.

The Independent’s Rudi Keller contributed to this story.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

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Jason Hancock