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Courts to decide if Prop A applies to county funding of ballpark


November 24, 2004 - By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

The courts will decide whether a recently approved ballot measure will apply to St. Louis County's $45 million support of a new ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Stadium bondholders filed a lawsuit against the county Nov. 17 asking the Circuit Court to void Proposition A, a voter-approved measure amending the County Charter to require a ballot referendum to OK any public funding of professional sports stadiums.

The suit contends Proposition A violates both the federal and state constitutions because it impairs the county's ability to meet a prior contractual obligation.

Besides the county, Fred Lindecke and Jeanette Mott Oxford of the Coalition Against Public Funding for Sports Stadiums are listed as defendants. While the coalition led the petition drive to get Prop A on the Nov. 2 ballot, it is uncertain why Lindecke and Oxford are defendants. Neither have the ability to grant relief to the plaintiffs.

As a defendant, the county must defend the County Charter as amended by Prop A, a job left to County Counselor Pat Reding-ton. But Redington also represents the County Council, which unanimously fa-vored the stadium subsidy last December and hasn't supported Prop A.

Redington did not return this newspaper's telephone messages before press time, but county spokesman Mac Scott told the Call the county agrees with the plaintiffs' claims.

"We believed all along that this proposition does not affect our funding of the Cards' ballpark, the appropriations to pay those bonds," Scott said. "Essentially, it (the lawsuit) doesn't affect our position on this. Now, with this lawsuit, we expect this will be resolved by the court."

Last December, the County Council kicked in $45 million in bonds to help fund the $397 million stadium. Now, it must annually appropriate around $2.3 million, which would come from the county's hotel-motel tax, for the next 30 years to repay the bonds and their interest.

Supporters of Prop A, which voters overwhelmingly approved Nov. 2, believe the county has no contractual obligation, only a moral obligation, so councilmen can't make those appropriations without voter consent.

At a recent council meeting, Lindecke and other coalition members urged the council to put the appropriation on the April 5 ballot but the request was denied.

The plaintiffs, including UMB Bank and the Missouri Development Finance Board, which issued the bonds, say the stadium subsidy along with the county's payment "obligation" preceded Prop A, so those appropriations are protected by the Constitution.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the ballot "initiative shall not be used for the appropriation of money other than of new revenues." A section of the U.S. Consti-tution states, "No state shall ... pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law im-pairing the obligation of contracts ..."

Therefore, "Proposition A applies, if at all, only to any future development of a professional sports facility," reads the court petition filed by the plaintiffs.

Based on the bond prospectus of the Mis-souri Development Finance Board, however, Lindecke said that argument is moot.

"They're trying to say government can't pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts. Our view is that we haven't passed a law impairing any obligation since the contract says the county has no obligation to pay the bonds," Lindecke told the Call.

"The bonds are not a debt or obligation of the county, the state of Missouri or any of its political subdivisions, and neither the county, the state nor any of its political subdivisions is obligated to pay the bonds,'' according to the bond prospectus.

At the same time, however, the plaintiffs argue the annual appropriations specifically are for debt repayment, not necessarily stadium funding.

"By its own terms, Proposition A does not apply to appropriations by St. Louis County of funds for payment of the bonds in accordance with the project agreement in that such payments are solely repayment of existing debt to the holder of the bonds and do not constitute financial assistance to the development of a professional sports facility," the court petition states.

Don Moschenross, a former executive at the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District and the St. Louis County Municipal League, also is a plaintiff, filing suit as a taxpayer.

The other plaintiffs are the Regional Con-vention and Visitors Commission and the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Author-ity of the City of St. Louis. Both were in-volved in issuing bonds on behalf of the county along with the Missouri Develop-ment Finance Board.

The plaintiffs' lead lawyer, Ted Noel of Armstrong Teasdale, also did not return messages from the Call.

Regardless of the court's decision, the St. Louis Cardinals will not be affected. Team owners already have the funding. The new ballpark is expected to be ready for the opening game of the 2006 season.

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