3 Legislature seats filled for possible Vegas stadium vote

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

RENO, Nev. -- Three people whose votes could determine whether a nearly $2 billion stadium is built to lure the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas were appointed Tuesday to vacant seats in the Nevada Legislature.

The three northern Nevada residents, including a former Stanford football player, will join other state lawmakers for a special session the governor is expected to convene next month to consider raising hotel room taxes in the Las Vegas area to help finance a 65,000-seat, domed stadium that could be home to the NFL team.

The current informal proposal on the table would tax only hotel guests in Las Vegas and Clark County, with no direct impact on Washoe County, Reno or Sparks. But critics fear that in the event of revenue shortfalls, the burden could fall to all Clark County taxpayers or, potentially, taxpayers statewide.

"I am a fan and support football as a sport," said ex-Stanford linebacker Dominic Brunetti, a Republican commercial real estate broker.

"And as a business, I respect the NFL," he said. "But only if it is fair to those communities and families it influences and impacts through oftentimes very, very complicated deal structures."

Similar concerns were expressed by the other appointees -- Republican Jesse Haw, a Reno developer, and Democrat Julia Ratti, a Sparks city councilwoman already running for state Senate in November.

"We are told it only is going to affect Clark County. But until we have the bill, we don't know," Haw said.

Under Nevada law, county commissions have the authority to appoint interim members to the Legislature when a seat is vacant.

Typically, when the vacancy occurs near the end or between legislative sessions, seats remain vacant until the next general election. But Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval asked Washoe and Clark counties to find temporary replacements now so the Legislature can expedite efforts to lure the Raiders to town before NFL owners are expected to take a position on such a move early next year.

Nevada law requires a two-thirds majority of the entire Legislature -- not just the sitting members -- for such a proposal to win approval. Still to be filled are two vacant seats in the Las Vegas area.

No formal bill can be drafted until the Legislature meets. But earlier this month, the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee recommended raising Vegas-area hotel taxes to put $750 million toward a stadium. Las Vegas Sands casino magnate Sheldon Adelson plans to invest $650 million in the venue.

Three-quarters of NFL owners would need to approve any team relocation, and they could do so when they meet in January. Oakland officials and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said they're hopeful the team can stay in the Bay Area where the team plays in an aging stadium.

Bob Lucey, a Washoe County commissioner and chairman of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, said the Raiders' relocation to Vegas would present an unprecedented opportunity for the state's tourism-based economy.

"However, at what cost?" he said, noting it would be the largest publicly funded stadium project in the nation ever.

The Nevada Taxpayers Association opposes the plan, questioning how the bonds would be repaid during an economic downturn and adding there's no evidence publicly funded stadiums ever benefit taxpayers. Nevadans for the Common Good, a coalition of churches and other faith-based groups, opposes the plan.

"The public is being asked to shoulder all these risks, while the billionaires benefit," said Pastor Marta Poling Schmitt. The Culinary Union is also against the proposal.

Ratti said she worries about the use of general obligation bonds to back the deal. She also shares concerns expressed by county Commission Chairwoman Kitty Jung that some Washoe County voters have a misconception they'd pay higher taxes under the current plan.

"At this point, this would not affect Washoe County taxpayers in the least," Jung said. "But it does affect perception."