- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s efforts to revive the possibility of a new Washington Commanders football stadium project have run into resistance in the state Senate, where few lawmakers seem interested in using tax dollars to help the NFL franchise — whether the owner is Dan Snyder or some other billionaire. 

The Senate finance committee pulled the plug on a Youngkin budget proposal setting aside $500,000 to study “potential economic incentives” for a new NFL stadium.

A Feb. 5 report from a finance subcommittee calls for the state to “remove funding to develop a plan for the Washington Commanders” and strikes the $500,000 requested by the governor from the proposed budget. In a list of budget amendments approved by the committee that was released Tuesday, the $500,000 is redirected to “accommodate priorities of the committee.” 

The Senate’s apparent lack of interest in the stadium project underscores how fraught the political climate around the team and its owner has become over the last two years.

“We don’t think we should be focused on individual enterprises,” said state Sen. Chap Petersen, who helped torpedo legislation last year that would have paved the way for a Commanders stadium in Virginia. “I think we’re looking for sustainable businesses that are looking to come here. We’re not throwing ourselves at anybody.” 

The push for a stadium in the state has lost considerable momentum in the wake of ongoing investigations of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct on the part of Washington Commanders executives, including Snyder, but the proposal is on life support in the state House, where a subcommittee on commerce, agriculture and natural resources inserted language to establish a Football Stadium Authority, which would help guide any potential project.

The proposed stadium authority wouldn’t be allowed to enter any arrangement with a football team for a stadium unless authorized by the General Assembly — a key difference from last year’s failed stadium authority bill. The House’s language also requires any agreement between the state and the Commanders to be reached by July 1, 2024, for the stadium authority to remain in effect. 

The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on the budget, while the House is set to vote Thursday. Once the House and the Senate pass their respective budgets, the two branches will then work to hammer out the differences for a final budget to send to the governor.

Last year, the Commanders and lawmakers seemed on track to approve a bill that would have helped build a proposed 55,000-seat stadium in Woodbridge. But the deal — which started the session with $1 billion in public funds proposed, only to be negotiated down to $350 million — fell apart in the late stages as numerous lawmakers came out publicly against the measure.

Petersen, a Fairfax Democrat who was a lifelong Washington fan, said he no longer viewed the Commanders as a “viable NFL franchise.” Delegate Barry D. Knight, a Virginia Beach Republican who introduced the House bill, told The Washington Times then that the legislation “never had the momentum” to pass. 

The Commanders are fending off two lawsuits filed by the D.C. attorney general as three other probes — one by the NFL, one by the Virginia attorney general and another by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia — remain active. The congressional panel investigating the Commanders wrapped up a nearly 14-month probe in December by concluding that Snyder impeded multiple investigations into the franchise and “permitted and participated in” the team’s “deeply entrenched toxic work culture.”  

Petersen said Monday that his position on the project hasn’t changed since last summer.

“It’s basically the same scenario we had last year: We don’t want to spend money — this is state taxpayer money, it’s not some private fund, it’s state taxpayer money that’s trying to attract a certain business,” he said, “particularly when that business has so many questions around it like the Washington Commanders.” 

Those questions, beyond where the Commanders’ next stadium will be located, include who will own the franchise. The Commanders announced last November that Snyder had hired an investment bank to explore a potential sale of the team. Youngkin told Bloomberg in January that he hoped “to have a chance to negotiate something” with whoever buys the Commanders. District Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters that Mr. Snyder’s departure would be a “positive development” for the team. 

The Commanders declined comment, while Youngkin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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