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Most lawmakers not willing to use public dollars to woo Athletics

Updated May 29, 2021 - 5:14 pm

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Legislature gave the Oakland Raiders 750 million reasons to move to Las Vegas five years ago. Would they do the same for the Oakland Athletics?

The short answer is “no,” said most legislative leaders when asked about using public dollars to fund a baseball stadium.

“I think that the notion of giving away public money for those types of endeavors, I just don’t think that we can afford that as a state,” Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said.

Officials for the Athletics last week visited Southern Nevada to look into a move to Las Vegas after Major League Baseball gave them the green light to explore relocation as the team’s proposal to build a new stadium in Oakland stalled.

Las Vegas is a recent entrant into the world of professional sports home cities. But with the success of the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena and the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, Southern Nevada has become an attractive option for teams looking to relocate.

The team is reportedly hoping for some kind of public-private partnership, similar to the deal struck in 2016 to use increased Clark County room taxes to provide $750 million in public funding for a part of the $2 billion building cost for the Raiders’ new home.

The Clark County hotel room tax was increased by 0.88 percent to fund the stadium project as well as an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The stadium’s share of the room tax has generated $164.6 million from its inception in March 2017 through February of this year.

But there seems to be little appetite for such a deal in Carson City.

No public dollars

“It’s great for the community, it’s great for branding. But I would be hesitant to consider any policy that proposed to use public dollars to provide a vehicle for a private endeavor like that if it’s not going to have a relatively immediate return on investment,” Frierson said.

That’s a sentiment shared by members of both parties’ leadership, it would seem.

“I believe we can lure an MLB team to our world-class city without using taxpayer money,” said Assemblyman Tom Roberts, R-Las Vegas. “Our loyal fan base, sense of community, team spirit and sportsmanship are second to none.”

Public financing from the Legislature that increase any taxes would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers. But that’s not the only kind of public support that the team could receive.

Local governments in Southern Nevada could offer up land for a stadium for free or at a reduced price, the way the city of Henderson did to entice the Raiders to build its practice facility. (The Raiders later sold its headquarters building for $191 million and leased it back.) Henderson has also engaged in secret talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks trying to lure the team to Southern Nevada.

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, thinks that the team might have an avenue to pursue that public funding, using the law enacted to fund the Raiders’ stadium to do it.

That law as written, however, only applied to a “National Football League stadium project.” Settelmeyer said the Legislature could look at tweaking that statute, which he voted for, so that it could also include the Athletics.

Still, Settlemeyer said, he’s “willing to have the discussion” and sees it as a great opportunity to attract another major professional franchise to the state.

“I hope Vegas looks at it. And I hope that they talk to the (Legislature), and if there’s anything that we can do to reasonably incentivize them,” Settelmeyer said.

Governor mum on baseball

It was then-Gov. Brian Sandoval who convened a special session of lawmakers in 2016 to iron out the deal for the Raiders.

Current Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, did not have much to say when asked if he would consider a similar tax package for the Athletics.

“The Governor is in the Capitol in Carson City and is focused on the legislative session,” Sisolak’s spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, signaled Saturday that stadium talks aren’t in the mix as lawmakers near the end of the regular legislative session.

“With three days left in session, we are focused on finalizing budgets and moving the policies we’ve been advancing to help Nevadans recover from the pandemic,” Cannizzaro said in a statement. “A stadium is not something that’s even on our radar at this time.”

Or maybe the Legislature just likes football more.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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