Virginia senator says deal to move Wizards, Capitals not happening

The top Democrats in the Virginia Senate have made a push for legislation to pave the way for the NBA's Washington Wizards and NHL's Washington Capitals to relocate to Northern Virginia, refusing to docket the bill for hearings and expressing serious reservations about Monday's funding. Proposed Agreement.

Sen. L. Lewis Lucas, who wields great influence in the General Assembly as chairman of the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, first said over the weekend On social media The legislation was “not ready for prime time” and would not receive a hearing in its committee, according to a compromise agreement by Republican Gov. Glenn Yonkin. The decision effectively killed the Senate version of the legislation due to a procedural deadline this week, although another bill is making progress in the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates.

Lucas, who took questions from reporters Monday morning along with Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, said Yonkin made a series of mistakes by trying to push the proposal through a General Assembly now under full Democratic control after the November election.

Among them, he said, was a weekend lecture at Washington and Lee University where Yongin Take a broad swipe The Democrats collectively said, the party “does not believe in a strong America — nor do they want to.”

Lucas and Surovell also said legislators were not brought up in the conversation about the deal to move teams from across the Potomac to Alexandria. They questioned why it was put up for a vote before a legislative economic development commission that reviews proposed incentives before outgoing lawmakers shut down that panel.

Surovell said there are concerns about whether the governor is truly willing to consider his priorities, which include establishing recreational marijuana sales and discussing legislation to further raise the minimum wage. Lucas is also seeking toll relief for the Hampton Roads area.

When asked if the deal was “dead,” Lucas replied bluntly: “As far as I'm concerned, it is.”

Lucas was asked whether changes to the House version of the bill, which will go to the Senate for consideration assuming it clears a floor vote, could make the proposal palatable.

He replied that he had strong objections to financing the project as currently envisioned because it used moral obligation bonds backed by the state and Alexandria. This means taxpayers could be on the hook if project revenues don't meet expectations.

“Until the full faith and credit of this commonwealth supports this project, my answer will remain incomplete,” he said.

Surovell said Senate Democrats asked questions about funding the deal in other ways but were told “that part of the bill is untouched.” He added that he was not aware of moral obligation bonds — which are typically used in Virginia to help finance public infrastructure projects — being used for any similar economic development initiatives.

Youngkin communications director Rob Damschen said in a statement that the governor is confident the Assembly will “come together because this project is good for the entire commonwealth.”

“It creates 30,000 jobs and unlocks billions in new revenue that can be used for expanded toll relief in Portsmouth, increased funding for I-81 and new money for education for rural and urban school divisions across the commonwealth,” Damschen said.

Senate Republicans criticized Lucas' refusal to present the bill for a committee vote, calling the move a “pocket veto” of the governor's priorities.

“The only reasonable explanation for this move is that there were not enough votes in the Senate Finance Committee to defeat the bill,” said Sen. Mark Obenshine of Rockingham. “This departure from Senate tradition is unfortunate and clearly indicates deep divisions among Senate Democrats.”

Youngkin and entrepreneur Ted Leonsis, a former AOL executive and CEO of the team's parent company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, announced in December that they had reached an agreement to transfer Capital and the Wizards.

The proposed new site in Alexandria would be just miles from where the teams currently play in Washington.

Legislation currently pending before the Legislature would establish a sports and recreation authority that would issue bonds that would help pay for the project. The bonds would be repaid through a mix of revenue from the arena and larger development surrounding it, including ticket taxes, parking fees, concession taxes, income taxes levied on athletes performing at the arena, and naming rights from the district, among other sources. .

Monica Dixon, a top executive at Monumental, said in a written statement Monday that the company is having “healthy discussions” with General Assembly leaders and Alexandria City Council members, who also must sign off on the agreement. Dixon said the company was encouraged by Friday's vote in a House committee, where the bill passed, 17-3.

Virginia's elected officials have long tried to lure a major pro team to the state, including a failed attempt to secure a Major League Baseball team two decades ago.

The baseball bid shared many structural similarities with what is now being proposed, including a reliance on moral obligation bonds, which worried top Republican leaders at the time.

Reporting by the Associated Press.

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