- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - It’s unclear whether halting payments for the current St. Louis football stadium, or refusing to make them for a potential new stadium, would hurt the state’s high credit rating, a state official told Missouri lawmakers Thursday.

The uncertainty comes after several legislators vowed to block spending for a new stadium without a vote by the public or the Legislature - a challenge to efforts by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority to replace the Edward Jones Dome with hopes to keep the Rams in the city. Owner Stan Kroenke is working to move the team to the Los Angeles area.

Plans outlined in a request for tax credits last week include $135 million from the state to help the sports authority make bond payments for the estimated $998 million stadium. That would be possible, members of Nixon’s administration have argued, by extending payments now being made to help pay off the old dome. But both the House and Senate budget chairmen have expressed reluctance to commit the state to more debt.

What will happen if lawmakers continue to resist is unclear.

Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson said while those who bought bonds used for the current dome were informed that payments are subject to legislative approval, refusing to continue payments constitutes defaulting on a state obligation made to the authority. He said he doesn’t know whether rating agencies would question that and opt to lower the state’s quality credit rating.

“There may be consequences if that payment isn’t met,” Nelson said. “That’s a term of default.”

An administration spokeswoman later said that the same issue could arise if the state enters into a similar arrangement to help finance a new stadium but lawmakers don’t allow the payments, as several have proposed.

Nelson spoke Thursday at a public forum hosted by Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf, one of the most outspoken critics of the plan to use public funding for a stadium. Schaaf said that the state technically is making lease payments, not bond payments, to the sports authority, although the end goal is to pay off bond debt. He suggested the state could refuse to make payments for a new stadium without negative consequences.

“I don’t think it will hurt our credit rating at all,” Schaaf said.

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