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Government, Politics & Issues

Legislators tell court Nixon is overstepping his power on stadium plan

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A circuit judge in Jefferson City is weighing a legal challenge that could affect funding for a new NFL stadium in St. Louis. The lawsuit centers on Gov. Jay Nixon's position that he has the authority to extend the pay-off period for the bonds used to build the Edward Jones Dome, the current home of the St. Louis Rams.

That extension could generate around $350 million in public funds for the proposed new stadium, which would be on the Mississippi riverfront north of the Gateway Arch and Laclede's Landing.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, says Nixon does not have that authority.

"It violates the separation of the executive branch's power from the legislative branch's power," Schaaf said.  "The legislature is supposed to decide whether or not to spend the money, and the governor is supposed to execute those wishes."

Schaaf is the lead plaintiff in the case. The other five are members of the Missouri House: Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, and Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette.

Barnes, who's also an attorney, argued their case before Cole County Judge Jon Beetem. The judge had barred the use of TV cameras, audio recorders, cell phones and other electronic recording devises during Tuesday's hearing.

Andy Hirth, deputy general counsel for the state attorney general's office, represents the Nixon administration in the suit.He argued that there is nothing unlawful about the governor's advocacy for a new stadium, and that the plaintiffs should have filed suit in St. Louis, not Cole County.

The hearing lasted about an hour, and Beetem did not issue a ruling after it ended.

The case in Jefferson City is one of three dealing with the stadium. Two in St. Louis concern release of documents and the constitutionality of of a city ordinance that St. Louis voters approved in 2002 requiring a public vote before the city can provide any financial assistance "to the development of a professional sports facility." The suit on the ordinance is being brought by the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which says a public vote is not required to extend the bonds.

Plans for a new NFL stadium in St. Louis flow from the original contract that brought the Rams to St. Louis. That contract had to be in the top 25 of NFL stadiums in 2015. The Edward Jones Dome is not. Urgency seemed to increase after Rams owner Stan Kroenke's announcement plans to build a new stadium near downtown Los Angeles.

The proposed new stadium in St. Louis could cost between $860 million and $985 million.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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