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‘The clock’s ticking’: No decision on A’s ballpark funding after court hears arguments

Updated April 10, 2024 - 9:38 am

The Nevada Supreme Court did not render a decision Tuesday after hearing arguments regarding a challenge to the Oakland Athletics’ public funding bill.

Lawyers for A’s lobbyists Danny Thompson and Thomas Morley, and the political action committee Schools Over Stadiums were each given 17 minutes to argue their sides to the seven Supreme Court justices on why a lower court’s 2023 decision regarding a petition opposing Senate Bill 1, the A’s stadium public financing bill signed into law last year, should be upheld or appealed.

The matter began last summer when Schools Over Stadiums, a PAC created by Nevada State Education Association, filed for a petition referendum challenging Senate Bill 1. The petition cited five sections of SB1 the PAC said violated the state constitution. A’s lobbyists Thompson and Morley then filed a lawsuit calling the petition referendum misleading for only containing portions of SB1.

In November, District Judge James Russell ruled in favor of the A’s lobbyists, stopping the petition efforts and leading to Schools Over Stadiums appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Schools Over Stadiums has until June 26 to gather 102,362 verified signatures of registered Nevada voters who took part in the 2022 general election in order to place the A’s public financing plan on November’s ballot for a public vote.

On Tuesday, each side focused on why the referendum should or shouldn’t have to contain the full text of SB1.

Francis Flaherty, an attorney representing the PAC, said that including just the five sections the group finds unconstitutional would help avoid confusion for voters who might sign the petition. He said it wouldn’t be any different if there were two separate petitions, one with the sections and the other with the full text of the bill.

“How does that prevent voter confusion?,” Flaherty questioned. “How does that promote informed decisions?”

Bradley Schrager, attorney for the A’s lobbyists, cited a portion of the Nevada Constitution that states a petition must include full text.

“Article 19, Section 3, pursuant to which each referendum petition and initiative petition shall have full text of the measure proposed,” Schrager said. “And that phrase is actually original to the direct democracy of Nevada.”

Senate Bill 1 is 66 pages long and features 46 sections that include details of financing the A’s ballpark, creating an entertainment tax district, establishing power of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority over the ballpark proceedings, and giving authority to the state treasurer to issue transferable tax credits.

Supreme Court Justice Lidia Stiglich likened the situation to a car, asking Flaherty that if voters who might sign the petition aren’t presented with the whole bill, how would they fully understand what’s being presented?

“If SB1 is a car, don’t the voters have to have the whole thing to understand how many wheels you’re taking off,” Stiglich questioned.

Flaherty disagreed, saying they would explain to the voters what parts of the bill are being targeted, instead of presenting the entire text.

“You talk a little bit about what the car is and then tell them what you’re going to do with it,” Flaherty said.

As of Tuesday, Schools Over Stadiums would have just 78 days to collect the required signatures, if they were legally able to do so. With the next court date for the matter yet to be set, time is running out for the PAC to gather the required signatures, if the Supreme Court ultimately reverses the lower court’s decision.

“The clock’s ticking,” said Chris Daly, deputy executive director for government relations for the NSEA, said. “We’re acutely aware of that.”

The A’s plan to begin construction in April 2025 on the 33,000 fan-capacity stadium, to be located on 9 acres of the 35-acre site of the former Tropicana Las Vegas.

Tentative plans call for the Tropicana to be demolished in October, and for the site to be cleared and prepared in the following months to have the land ready for construction next spring.

The A’s plan to begin play in Las Vegas in 2028 and will play their final season in Oakland this year, before playing home games at a Triple-A ballpark in Sacramento in the interim between 2025-2027.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on X.

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