County Executive Frank White Jr. vetoes stadium-tax ordinance for April vote; legislature unlikely to override

Move leaves future of Chiefs, Royals in Jackson County uncertain, barring more concrete agreement
Truman Sports Complex Kauffman and Arrowhead.jpeg
Posted at 3:30 PM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 18:50:29-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. vetoed an ordinance passed by the county legislature that would have let taxpayers decide whether to extend a county-wide 3/8-cent sales tax to fund stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals.

Despite the release earlier Thursday of a letter of intent that broadly outlined a long-term lease agreement, which the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority agreed to with its pillar pro-sports tenants, White issued the veto Thursday afternoon — the last day he could reject the ordinance.

"This proposed sales tax would generate over $2 billion from our residents, yet there is no clear understanding or assurance regarding the teams' commitments and contributions to the county,” White said in a statement announcing his decision. “It's not a good deal for taxpayers and I cannot support an agreement that is not in their best interest."

The Chiefs or Royals had yet to sign the letter of intent as of Thursday afternoon, a source told KSHB 41 News. Both clubs remain signed 25-year lease extensions in 2006, which continue through January 2031, when voters last signed off on the sales tax.

In a joint statement after the veto was announced, the Chiefs and Royals said they "respect the County Executive's veto authority" but pledged to "continue working with with the legislators to ensure that this ordinance is on the ballot on April 2."

Kansas City, Mayor, Quinton Lucas expressed optimism about the chances to work something out in time for the April ballot.

The Jackson County Legislature passed the ordinance Jan. 8, but some legislators immediately signaled hesitation to push forward without more details from the Chiefs and Royals.

The ordinance passed 8-1 and the legislature would need at least six votes at next week’s meeting on Monday to override White’s veto, which they no longer appear to have.

It’s unclear how many of the eight legislators who voted for the ordinance would stick with that vote after the veto, but at least three have signaled a willingness to uphold the veto.

Two legislators who voted for the original ordinance — Jalen Anderson, one of the legislators who signaled reservations after the initial vote, and Legislative Chair Jeanie Lauer — released a statement in conjunction with White’s veto.

“We support Countty Executive Frank White Jr.’s veto, will vote to sustain it, and emphasize that further negotiations should be conducted with his office, as they are responsible for representing our county interests,” the statement said in part.

Legislative Vice Chair Megan Marshall, who cast the lone vote against the ordinance, also signed the statement.

Less than an hour later, Legislator Sean Smith also issued a statement via White's office, which said he's "willing" to let the veto remain in place.

"While I am anxious to put the issue of the Stadium Tax on the ballot for voters to decide, I do have an obligation to ensure that the key terms have been sufficiently agreed to by all parties before this goes to the vote of Jackson County citizens," Smith said.

Smith's statement implied that the teams have yet to sign the letter of intent or a memorandum of understanding, which would lock in the framework for new lease agreements.

"Without such documentation that is clear and unambiguous, and signed by all parties involved including the teams, the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority and the County, it would be extremely irresponsible to leave this on the ballot for April," he said.

Smith also expressed optimism that an agreement remains possible before Monday's meeting of the lesgislature.

With the defections of Smith, Anderson and Lauer, the county legislature does not have enough votes to override the veto and Smith called on other legislators to sustain White's veto without something more concrete from the teams.

That would leave the future of the Royals, who are seeking a new stadium, and the Chiefs in doubt with respect to remaining in Jackson County.

The deadline to file for the April 2 election is Tuesday, Jan. 23.

The Chiefs and Royals agreed to give up the portion of the Jackson County Park Levy, which had been $3.5 million annually, and take over payment of property insurance at the venues.

But White said that wasn’t enough, saying he wants a “definitive, binding agreement would not only include financial concessions, but also commitments to maintain team headquarters and training facilities in Jackson County and robust community benefit agreements.”

White cast the veto as part of his effort to secure “a fair and equitable agreement for taxpayers” before any possible vote.

“We are not just retaining sports teams,” White continued in his statement. “We are opening doors to a future where sports investment translates into community prosperity, economic growth and an enhanced quality of life. I am committed to working collaboratively to find a solution that honors our longstanding partnerships while upholding our responsibility to the taxpayers of Jackson County.”

The teams agreed in the letter of intent to provide a detailed lease agreement by March 31, which would give voters more information before heading to the polls.

Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said the team's preference is to renovate and expand GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, while the Royals are exploring options for a new downtown stadium.