RICHMOND — The General Assembly will delay voting on legislation meant to lure the Washington Commanders football team to Virginia, a key senator said Tuesday, signaling trouble for a plan that began the year with broad bipartisan buy-in.
The delay will not be the last word on the stadium effort generally or even the current legislation, which Saslaw said will stay alive because the General Assembly will not take the usual vote to conclude the special session Wednesday. That move will extend the session for an unspecified period.
But the delay suggests that the proposed taxpayer-subsidized stadium has become a tougher sell in Richmond than in January, when a pair of bills emerged with powerful bipartisan support, and newly inaugurated Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) endorsed the idea in his first speech to the legislature.
While negotiators have worked since then to slash the size of the state’s contribution — from an initial estimate of $1 billion to less than $300 million — controversies have grown around team owner Daniel Snyder. Snyder has been accused of sexual misconduct and financial improprieties — allegations he denies.
“I think we’ve still got some work to do, and the votes are probably close,” said Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William), who has raised questions about transportation issues around a potential location for the project in Woodbridge, where the team recently obtained an option to buy land. “If it was ready, it’d be on a vote for tomorrow, but it’s not ready.”
Team president Jason Wright greeted the delay as an opportunity to promote the project.
“We are grateful for the bipartisan support the stadium authority legislation has already received, and any additional time will certainly provide us with more opportunities to share how this project can create new jobs, generate significant tax revenue, and spur economic development for surrounding communities and the Commonwealth as a whole,” Wright said in a statement.
The Commanders, who are contractually obligated to play at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., until 2027, have been shopping for a new home for years in Virginia, Maryland and D.C.
Snyder wants to build not just a new stadium but a massive commercial and residential complex that supporters call a “mini-city,” including a convention center, concert venue, hotels, restaurants and housing. Supporters have said the stadium and surrounding development would provide a tremendous economic boost to the community where it is built.
Saslaw and a powerful Republican, House Appropriations Chairman Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach), introduced bills to create a stadium authority to oversee construction and financing of the project. As originally proposed, the bills would have allowed the team to collect a share of state tax revenue generated by the stadium and the more expansive commercial development to finance construction of the stadium.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates and the Democratic-led Senate passed separate bills in February by hefty, bipartisan margins.
But there were concerns about the amount of tax revenue the state would forfeit, initially estimated at $1 billion. In March, negotiators trying to smooth out differences in the bills said they would cap the state’s contribution at $350 million. They failed to strike a deal before the legislature wrapped up its regular session that month, so the legislation rolled into a special session called primarily to complete work on the state budget.
Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford), one of the negotiators, said last week that they planned to lower the cap again, to under $300 million. He also said that he expected the compromise bill to let the team have a share of revenue generated only from the stadium, not from the broader commercial development — an approach that Saslaw has embraced as a way of limiting the impact on ordinary taxpayers.
“If you don’t ever attend a game or you’re not an employee of the football team, not one penny of your taxes will ever go toward paying off that stadium. Not a penny,” Saslaw said. “Unless they’re a player or a coach or go to the stadium and buy something, there is not a penny of their money in there.”
Saslaw was referring to state tax revenue. The locality where the stadium is built would have the option to give the team a break on local taxes, which would not apply toward the $300 million cap.
Although they continue to explore locations in Maryland and D.C., the Commanders also acquired the right to purchase 200 acres in Prince William County for the project. Leaked a little more than a week before the General Assembly was expected to vote on the stadium bill Wednesday, the disclosure of the acquisition could have been intended to pull the measure over the finish line.
Some members of the General Assembly remained upbeat about the plan’s prospects last week, even as Newman and Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) — for many years the team’s most vocal cheerleader in Richmond — voiced doubts about it.
The Commanders and Snyder have been embroiled in scandal for much of the past two years amid allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety, which have prompted investigations by the NFL and Congress, as well as possibly the Federal Trade Commission. Last month, Attorneys General Karl A. Racine (D) of D.C. and Jason S. Miyares (R) of Virginia launched their own probes of the team.
Sam Fortier contributed to this report.