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Public funding for Las Vegas NFL stadium passes first key vote in Legislature

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Michelle Rindels / AP

Republican lawmakers huddle as they discuss a bill during a special session in Carson City, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. The Senate voted to authorize public funds for an NFL stadium and convention center expansion in Las Vegas.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016 | 7 p.m.

A public financing plan for a $1.9 billion NFL stadium in Las Vegas cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday night with 16 senators voting for the deal and five against it.

The vote OK’ed an increase in the Clark County room tax to provide a $750 million public contribution to the stadium project and a $420 million contribution for the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The bill needed the support of 14 senators, or two-thirds of the body, to pass.

The vote came after two hours of discussion, a couple dozen pages of amendments were introduced Tuesday evening, and a handful of questions from state senators. It now heads to the Assembly for final vetting there, where it also needs two-thirds support.

Those senators who voted for the bill are Democrats Kelvin Atkinson, Mo Denis, Aaron Ford, Mark Manendo, David Parks, Pat Spearman and Joyce Woodhouse and Republicans Patricia Farley, Scott Hammond, Joe Hardy, Becky Harris, Jesse Haw, Ben Kieckhefer, Mark Lipparelli, Michael Roberson and James Settelmeyer.

Those who voted against are Democrats Ruben Kihuen, Julia Ratti, and Tick Segerblom and Republicans Pete Goicoechea and Don Gustavson.

Farley, who had previously expressed some concerns over the project, called the bill “an opportunity to put people back to work.” She acknowledged that some people might be upset by the vote but encouraged them to "keep their eye on the ball.”

Though Hardy was upset that the bill did not include a fix for school choice funding, he said that the pros ultimately outnumbered the cons. He said he has confidence that the Legislature will be able to implement a funding fix come the regular legislative session in February.

Across the aisle, Woodhouse gave the same explanation — that her list of pros was longer than her list of cons. She and several of the other Democratic senators who supported the bill pointed to the labor jobs that building the stadium would create as the main reason to justify their “yes” votes.

Kihuen, meanwhile, said the legislation sets a “bad precedent.”

"That represents bad public policy and a misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Kihuen said. "This magnitude of public money for a legacy project of one of the wealthiest people in the world is just plain unacceptable.”

Segerblom, another “no” vote, opposed both the bill and the special stadium in principle, saying it isn’t right that legislators are called to Carson City “on a whim’s notice” to “rubber stamp” a deal.

Goicoechea, one of the two Republicans who voted against the bill, said that it sets a “very dangerous precedent” in mandating a local government to raise a tax and dictate how that tax is spent. Had it been written as enabling legislation — allowing the Clark County Commission to create the tax — he said he would’ve supported it.

Meanwhile, the Assembly met briefly this afternoon but adjourned within minutes because an amendment to the police funding bill would not be finished before sundown, interfering with plans to break for Yom Kippur. Assembly members will reconvene at 8 a.m. Thursday.

They have their work cut out for them: a vote on the police funding bill before diving into the legislation related to the convention center expansion and stadium construction.

Assembly Speaker John Hambrick said he’s optimistic the votes are there for both bills to move forward. As for when, he’s hoping it can be accomplished by end of Friday.

“We are in the process of making the state extremely competitive,” Hambrick said.

The Senate plans to meet again at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Of the amendments made to the stadium bill before it passed the Senate, one of the most substantial changes was a section requiring 15 percent of the subcontracts for the stadium construction project be awarded to small local businesses. Language in the section specifies what exactly defines a small local business, while exempting the stadium oversight board from this requirement should there be an insufficient number of such businesses.

A second change adds the requirement of a so-called "community benefits” plan into the bill. The language requires that the company that will eventually run the stadium and the developer partners create a plan to ensure that a wide variety of local community members are able to benefit from any economic opportunities that arise from the stadium’s construction and operation.

It also requires that a stadium community oversight community be created to carry out such a plan.

A more minor change fixed an error pointed out by Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer that would have let the developer partners off the hook for any extra project costs mandated by any governmental entity, such as the Federal Aviation Authority. Developers had promised to cover any additional costs associated with the stadium, like any offsite infrastructure needed to develop the stadium.

11:05 a.m. Three hours of public comment has finally wrapped up in the Senate chambers.

The testimony featured a broad swath of community members, including activists, veterans, pastors, union members and former legislators.

One of those former legislators, Lucy Flores, pushed for an extension of the public comment period from the one hour that initially was allocated to three hours.

“As a former colleague, I would respectfully request you give these opponents their fair time,” Flores said, testifying by video from the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

Stadium proponents — including casino owner Steve Wynn, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, and Caesars Entertainment executive Jan Jones Blackhurst — were given three hours to testify before a joint gathering of the state Senate and Assembly on Monday, upsetting stadium opponents.

Many of those testifying this morning, particularly via video from Las Vegas, were against the proposal for the public to contribute $750 million in taxpayer dollars toward building the $1.9 billion NFL stadium. The fiercest takedown of the stadium proposal came from County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who urged legislators to “have the courage to vote no” on the deal.

Giunchigliani ran through several yet-to-be-answered questions about the stadium proposal, including whether there were any other developer partners in the deal, where the stadium would be built, and what other unexpected costs would be associated with the deal, such as paying for infrastructure improvements at and around the stadium site.

Giunchigliani and others expressed concern about the timeline of the stadium process, saying it had been unnecessarily hasty.

“You have the responsibility to vote no on this entire package, so the elected Legislature can give it the time it needs,” said Howard Watts III, a field director at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “The process has been rushed and flawed.

Stadium proponents, however, argue that the sped-up timeline is necessary to have enough time to persuade NFL owners to approve the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas at a meeting of team owners in January.

Several union workers, including a handful from the Plumbers and Pipefitters union, advocated for the stadium during public comment. They said the stadium project would create sorely needed jobs, allowing them and their colleagues to return to work.

Bill Stanley, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, said Southern Nevada hasn’t had a major construction project in 10 years and that many trained construction workers have since left.

“(Workers) don’t come for nothing,” Stanley said. “They don’t come for nothing.”

The Senate is now in recess to determine the status of amendments to the bill that the Legislative Counsel Bureau has been working on.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson said this morning that the goal is for senators to vote on the stadium and convention center bill by sundown, when both houses of the Legislature will recess for Yom Kippur until sometime after sundown on Wednesday.

•••

CARSON CITY — Day Two of the special session of the Legislature kicked off this morning with a bang as opponents of public funding for an NFL stadium in Las Vegas lambasted the deal and urged lawmakers to vote no on a proposed tax increase to pay for it.

Public comment started shortly after 8 a.m. and will run through 11 a.m. Opponents packed a room at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas to testify via video.

Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani delivered a fiery speech condemning the project, which comes with a proposed $750 million public investment. She encouraged lawmakers to vote against the deal and consider funding for an expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center separately.

“Have the courage to vote no and then take the time to do it right,” Giunchigliani said.

Besides the public funding, the stadium would be paid for with $650 million from the family of Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and $500 million from the Oakland Raiders, who are looking to move to Las Vegas.

The public portion of the funding would be covered by an increase in the hotel room tax in Clark County, which must be approved by the Legislature.

Private citizens and representatives of Nevadans for the Common Good and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada also spoke today against the stadium funding plan.

The public comment portion was scheduled to last an hour, with input from proponents and critics. After pushback from opponents in Las Vegas, who argued that supporters received several hours of testimony Monday, state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson agreed to lengthen the public comment period.

“We have to stop at 11 o’clock because we have a schedule we have to meet today,” Roberson said.

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