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Virginia plan to score Washington Commanders new stadium calls for $1 billion in bonds

Lawmakers say bonds would be repaid over 30 years using tax revenue from the new stadium

WASHINGTON — New legislation working its way through the Virginia legislature would authorize the sale of up to $1 billion worth of government bonds to help finance a new Washington Commanders stadium in Northern Virginia.

The financial details of SB 727, which would establish the Virginia Football Stadium Authority, were released during a Senate Finance and Appropriations committee hearing Thursday night. The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Saslaw (D) of Fairfax, was approved by the Finance and Appropriations Committee 14-2 with one abstention. It now moves to the full legislature for approval.

A companion bill was passed by the Virginia House Committee on Appropriations on Monday.

Under the legislation, the Virginia Football Stadium Authority would be authorized to sell $1 billion in bonds to help fund a new Washington Commanders stadium in Northern Virginia. The team would be required to invest at least $2 billion. The bonds would be paid back over 30 years, paid for by a projected $3 billion dollars in tax revenue from the new stadium over that period.

“If we were writing a check at all, I’d be out,” said Sen. Stephen Newman (R) of Forest.

George Perry, a business professor at George Mason University spoke to WUSA9 about the legislation by phone. Perry, who worked as a sports marketing executive for 23 years (including more than one year with the Commanders) said on its surface, the legislation does not authorize a taxpayer funded stadium deal. 

“It doesn’t appear so,” Perry said shortly after details of the legislation were released Thursday night. “It’s a creative way to finance a stadium without using direct taxpayer money.”

That doesn’t mean that Virginia isn’t ponying up for Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder. By comparison, the new $5 billion Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., home to this weekend's Super Bowl, was financed entirely by Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke. That means the local government in Inglewood collects 100% of the tax revenue from that project.

In Virginia’s case, $1 billion of the projected $3 billion dollars in tax revenue would be diverted from local coffers to repay the bonds.

Still, Saslaw touted his plan as free of taxpayer burden.

“It does not create a penny of debt,” he told the committee.

Saslaw added, his plan is similar to those that funded new stadium construction in Atlanta, Dallas and Santa Clara.

The legislation also stipulates any stadium deal would have to be approved by county government as well as the Stadium Authority. Loudoun and Prince William Counties have both been discussed as possible homes in Northern Virginia for a new Washington Commanders stadium.

An amendment offered by Sen. Adam Ebbin (D) of Alexandria to require disclosure of the NFL’s investigation into Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder before any stadium deal is approved failed for lack of support. In fact, the motion did not receive a second from a single member of the committee.

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