LOS ANGELES -- Supervisors in Maricopa County, Ariz., have been asked to enact a quarter-cent sales tax to finance construction of a major league baseball stadium in Phoenix.
A group of investors led by Jerry Colangelo, majority owner and president of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, hopes to bring the first professional baseball franchise to Arizona by 1997.
To meet the goal, Colangelo wants supervisors to approve the ballpark tax levy by Jan. 5, 1994, said Rich Dozer, vice president and chief operating officer of the Phoenix Suns, yesterday.
Colangelo last month demanded that supervisors vote on the matter on Dec. 15, their last meeting of the year, but Dozer said the deadline was artificial."
"It takes three years, minimum, to design and build a stadium," Dozer said. To pursue negotiations with Major League Baseball, investors need to sign a contract with the county for design and construction of the stadium by early January, he said.
Dozer said investors have pledged to pay roughly $ 10 million to Major League Baseball for the franchise, and that they expect public entities to pay 100% of the stadium construction and related costs, which together are estimated at roughly $300 million.
However, Eric Anderson, a policy analyst for Maricopa County, said supervisors would not be wining to finance the ballpark completely with tax dollars.
Supervisors are "not going to go for 100% public funding of the stadium and then say to Jerry Colangelo, Here are the keys"' when the ballpark is built, Anderson said.
A quarter-cent sales tax levy would generate about $65 million annually. A quarter-cent levy is the maximum amount allowed by law; supervisors could levy an amount less than a quarter-cent. Tax collections cannot begin until 30 days after a franchise is awarded, and the levy would eventually end after the stadium and related facilities are paid for.
Legislation authorizing the sales tax levy was passed in 1990 by the Arizona Legislature.
The enabling legislation allowed supervisors to create the Maricopa County Stadium District, empowered to "acquire land and construct, finance, furnish, maintain, operate, market, and promote the use of a major league baseball franchise stadium." Supervisors serve as the district's board of directors.
The district's financial adviser is Peacock, Hislop, Staley & Given Inc., and the bond counsel is Gust Rosenfeld. Both are Phoenix-based firms.
Larry Given, president of Peacock, Hislop, said a stadium financing would emphasize "the pay-as-you-go method" secured by proceeds of the sales tax.
"A financing would be extremely short-term, given the magnitude of sales-tax dollars" to be generated, Given said.
A "plain-vanilla" financing mechanism" under consideration would be an excise tax revenue bond supported by the sales tax," Given said.
Gust Rosenfeld is researching whether such bonds would be taxable or tax-exempt, said Scott W. Ruby, a partner with the firm. "We would .strive to make the financing tax exempt," Ruby said.
Meanwhile, the supervisors' upcoming showdown vote on the proposed tax levy has provoked local controversy.
Arizona state Sen. Manuel Pena Jr., D-Phoenix, said yesterday he would introduce a bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January to force a public vote on the sales tax proposal.
"In Maricopa County, the sales tax goes up to 6.8%" today, Pena said in a telephone interview. "If you add one-quarter [cent] more, it would go up to 7.05%. That is too much." Arizona's statewide sales tax is 5%.
Dozer of the Phoenix Suns said it would be "double jeopardy" for legislators -- who in 1990 passed the statute authorizing the sales tax -- to now support Pena's proposal.
"It would be like the Legislature coming back and saying never mind," Dozer said. "We don't think Pena has the votes" to pass the legislation, he said.
A recent poll by the Arizona Republic found that 54% of Maricopa County residents favored a quartercent sales tax increase to build a stadium. Forty-three percent said they were opposed to such a tax, and 3% had no opinion. However, 77% of respondents said they favored Colangelo's efforts to bring major league baseball to the county.