Kelly takes shot at $10 million for Sporting Kansas City stadium upgrades ahead of World Cup

Proposal dwarfed by governor’s $820 million proposal for payments to Kansans.
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Gov. Laura Kelly suggested the Kansas Legislature earmark $10 million for infrastructure upgrades to Sporting Kansas City’s soccer club stadium in Wyandotte County ahead of the 2026 World Cup games in Kansas City. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly recommended Monday the Kansas Legislature invest $10 million improving infrastructure at Sporting Kansas City’s soccer stadium in Wyandotte County in advance of the World Cup competition scheduled for the metropolitan area in three years.

The Democratic governor included the proposal among ideas for consideration by the Republican-led Legislature this week as work on the state’s new budget was expected to draw to a close. The attention of most legislators was drawn to her idea of providing Kansans residents who filed tax returns a one-time $450 cash payment this summer, given the state’s unprecedented budget surplus.

Her gift would cost the state treasury $820 million, but not cut into the state’s cash reserves over the next several years in the manner of the Legislature’s broad tax-reduction bill she vetoed.

Adam Proffitt, the governor’s budget director and secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration, said the $10 million would be relied upon to bring Sporting Kansas City’s facility in line with comparable professional soccer venues. World Cup action will take place at Arrowhead Stadium, the Missouri home of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The investment would improve lighting and sound systems in Sporting Kansas City stadium and establish an outdoor entertainment pavilion near the stadium to support future economic development, Proffitt said.

“It would also get them into a position they could host some international matches in advance of the World Cup,” the budget director said in a presentation to members of the House and Senate budget committees.

Rep. Ken Rahjes, an Agra Republican, said he was not a soccer fan and was puzzled why Kelly would suggest dumping $10 million into a soccer facility when the state had so many other needs.

He suggested he could come up with 20 areas in which that money could be better spent.

“Why is this needed so bad?” Rahjes said.

The FIFA World Cup occurs every four years and was regarded as most prestigious and widely viewed sporting event on the planet. The competition in 2026 will be hosted by three countries serving 48 participating nations. Kansas City would be among U.S. cities hosting soccer matches.

Kelly included in her revised budget blueprint a request for nearly $600 million in school aid for special education, $65 million for state worker salary increases, $220 million for a program to help cities and counties qualify for federal infrastructure funding and the $820 million one-time payments to Kansans.

Without new state investment in special education, Proffitt said, Kansas risked falling further behind a law requiring the state cover 92% of extra costs related to caring for students with special needs. The state also could be financially penalized by the federal government for not demonstrating a willingness to sustain special education funding, he said.

The governor likewise suggested the Legislature work on speeding elimination of the state’s 4% sales tax on groceries while devoting $1.8 million to hire 13 public defenders and earmark $8.4 million for domestic violence initiatives.

She said the state ought to spend $1.1 million to improve security of mail delivered to state prison facilities, because paper was being laced with narcotics. The new approach would allow photocopying of mail to prevent passing illegal drugs to inmates that was embedded in envelopes or letters.

Many factors play into decisions of the governor and legislators as they strive to end the 2023 session that began in January. Kelly has vetoed more than a dozen bills and issued about two dozen line-item budget vetoes. The Legislature could send her more bills she couldn’t swallow, while the House and Senate has been developing a strategy to seek overrides of her vetoes when all members return Wednesday to Topeka.

The budget debate at the Capitol will be influenced by the updated state tax revenue forecast indicating Kansas could expect to receive $128 million more in revenue this fiscal year than projected in November.

Inflation appeared to be moderating, the economy experienced growth and the state had two job vacancies for every unemployed person, said J.G. Scott, director of the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

He said the state lost 158,000 jobs when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, but employment had grown by 177,000 in the past three years.

“Now we’re above those pre-COVID levels,” Scott told legislators at the budget briefing. “The labor market is going to be considerably tight for the near future.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Categories: Politics