Commentary

Delegate Marcus Simon’s Richmond Report

At the beginning of the year, it seemed inevitable that Virginia would pass legislation to create a special Stadium Authority, allowing the NFL and its Washington Franchise to issue debt to build a new stadium in one of the DC exurbs. Taxpayer money (albeit money generated arguably only because the stadium was there) would then be used to pay the debt back.


The only question was how sweet the deal would be for the owner, and how high the tab might be for Virginia taxpayers.


The Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Richard Saslaw, carried the broader version of the bill in the State Senate. House Appropriations Chair, Republican Barry Knight of Virginia Beach carried a bill with a narrower version in the House of Delegates. The bill even got a nod of approval from newly elected Governor Youngkin in his inaugural and State of The Commonwealth addresses.


Having this momentum, the bill cruised through the committee process in the House (keeping in mind the Appropriations Chair was the sponsor) and landed on the House Floor a few weeks into session.
Meanwhile, I was getting nothing but negative constituent feedback about a taxpayer-funded stadium. There was no organized opposition, but plenty of emails, commentators at town halls, and people pulling me aside at the grocery store all saying the same thing:


“I’m against this.”


So, when the bill got to the floor, I was looking for ways to slow down the momentum of the train that was barreling down the tracks toward either Dumfries or Loudoun. I decided to throw up a signal light.


Some constituents I heard from were concerned about traffic implications and others about the rate of return on stadium investments. And still others thought it was a bad land use decision. Most of the complaints I heard were that the primary beneficiary of the plan would be someone who had shown himself to be wholly undeserving of it: Daniel Snyder.


Some disapproved of the way the team had performed during his tenure as owner, but most felt like he was (based on press accounts and investigations swirling around him) a bit of a creep. Certainly not someone they’d want to be in business with.


So that was my angle of attack. When the bill came up for a vote on the floor, I introduced an amendment that tied the creation of the Stadium Authority to the NFL and the Washington Franchise agreeing to release the results of attorney Beth Wilkinson’s investigation into the toxic team culture, including allegations of sexual harassment and assault by team employees. Unless and until that report was released, as the U.S. House Government Oversight Committee had requested, the Stadium Authority legislation would not take effect.


Although the amendment was rejected with all 52 House Republican’s votes, it changed the conversation about the bill and its trajectory.


Eventually both the House and Senate plans passed in different forms, but without language tying the release of the report to the creation of the Authority. The bill no longer seemed quite so inevitable.
The Senate version of the bill needed to be corrected to avoid giving the team access to billions in tax revenue related to all the business adjacent to the new hypothetical stadium. A Super bowl was played in February in a stadium funded entirely by its owner with no taxpayer help.


When the bill conferees working couldn’t come to an agreement on the size and scope, it became clear that there were no longer the votes for any bill. It was allowed die a quiet death.


Last week, ESPN Magazine reported that Mr. Snyder’s inability to secure public financing for a new stadium, and his inability to take on the debt to build one without government help, was contributing to increasing noise that his fellow owners might force him to sell the team.


This goes to show that sometimes even when the numbers are stacked against you in the legislature, it’s worth putting an idea on the table and making people vote on it – making a statement even when it has no chance of passing.


My constituents didn’t want to pay for an NFL Stadium, they didn’t want it in Virginia, and they didn’t want Dan Snyder to reap the benefits of the deal.


I took their concerns to Richmond and made them heard.


If you’d like to share anything with me about the upcoming 2023 Session, the best way to reach me is via e-mail at delmsimon@house.virginia.gov or at 571-327-0053.