Coalition files notice to appeal; seeks public vote on stadium funding issue
April 20, 2005 - The county's repayment of $45 million in bonds sold to subsidize the St. Louis Card-inals' new ballpark is being challenged once again.
Attorneys representing the Coalition Against Public Funding for Stadiums last week filed a notice to appeal a circuit judge's ruling that an amendment to the County Charter could not block the county's repayments of the bonds.
The notice was filed with the Eastern Dis-trict of the Missouri Court of Appeals, and the actual motion to appeal will be filed in September, according to a coalition news release.
"It's about whether voters have a say in how their tax dollars are spent," coalition attorney Karl Hawkins of Kennedy Hawk-ins told the Call. "It is to allow the St. Louis County voters to vote on whether their public money should be used to fund the Card-inals' ballpark downtown."
County voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition A last November by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. The County Charter amendment requires a ballot referendum for the public funding of sports stadiums. The aim was to seek voter approval of the county's repayment of the $45 million in bonds used to help fund a new $397 million ballpark for the St. Louis Cardinals.
But Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace ruled the measure couldn't apply retroactively. Be-cause Cardinal owners have received the money, the county merely is repaying debt, Wallace ruled, not funding the stadium.
That debt may be unconstitutional, however, Hawkins said. The coalition's appeal claims that the bond-purchasing terms are unconstitutional because they exceed legal debt limitations, such as a cap on government borrowing based on a percentage of the entity's assessed valuation.
They also question the legality of the 30-year length of the bonds.
"If the deal was made in 2003, then it violates the debt-limitation provision of the Missouri Constitution, particularly the 20-year provision because it puts the county in debt for 30 years," said Christina Hart of Kennedy Hawkins.
Hart also told the Call, "The law that there must be a true adversarial relationship was broken. The county, which was the defendant in the case, really had the same interest as the bondholders. There was not what we call 'justiciable controversy.' There have to be two parties in conflict."
The County Council appropriated $2.7 million this year for its first payment on the principal and interest of the bonds. Be-fore the appropriation was made, the coalition asked the council for a referendum, a request the council denied.
Before that, bondholder trustees filed suit against the county and the coalition, asking Wallace to declare Proposition A unconstitutional or at least rule that it did not apply to the Cardinals' bonds.
As defendants in the case, the coalition filed another claim against the county, asking Wallace to force a ballot referendum on the $2.7 million appropriation. Wallace ruled against the coalition.
Hawkins and Hart hope to overturn that ruling.