CARSON CITY, Nev. — A plan to put $750 million in public funds toward an NFL stadium in Las Vegas has passed the first of two major votes in the Nevada Legislature, with lawmakers saying they understood their votes might draw criticism but they want to bring more jobs to a beleaguered construction industry.
The Nevada Senate voted 16-5 on Tuesday to pass a bill that would raise hotel taxes by up to 1.4 percentage points in the Las Vegas area to fund a convention center expansion and build a stadium — partially funded by billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adeson — that could house the Raiders. The measure garnered more votes than the two-thirds needed to approve a tax increase, and now heads to the Assembly for consideration.
"I know I'm going to have some folks cussing me out when I get home. But I'm a big boy. I can take it," said Democratic Sen. Aaron Ford, who supported the deal even though many liberal groups and three fellow Democrats opposed it. "Notwithstanding what the pundits say, it ain't the lobbyists here that persuaded me. It's the constituents who've told me time and time and time again that I want a job."
Lawmakers who voted no included Republicans Pete Goicoechea and Don Gustavson, and Democrats Tick Segerblom and Julia Ratti. Democrat Sen. Ruben Kihuen, a vocal critic, said he thinks stadium proponents are over-promising what the stadium will yield and believes the deal is a handout to a billionaire.
"That sets a bad precedent. That represents bad public policy and a misuse of taxpayer dollars," said Kihuen, who's running in a competitive congressional race. "This magnitude of public money for a legacy project of one of the wealthiest people in the world is just plain unacceptable."
The speeches came after a lengthy public comment period Tuesday morning that was dominated by stadium opponents. Critics decried the rushed deal, which is happening in a special session rather than the four-month-long regular session next spring.
They also complained that the Legislature isn't using public funds to address mental health and education budget shortfalls, and pointed out that some outside economists have panned the deal as a boondoggle that could leave taxpayers holding the bag in a downturn.
But the three-hour public comment period appeared to ultimately help the stadium's cause. Laborers and veterans testified that they needed the estimated 25,000 construction jobs the project will bring after the industry was devastated in the recession.
Four lawmakers said in speeches they were influenced by the testimony of one man who described living out of his truck and taking showers at the gym before a construction job gave him a hand up.
"I couldn't leave this chamber and look a laborer in the eye, and say I had a chance to give you a job and I voted no," said Ford, who said the man's testimony reminded him of the time when he became a single dad as a junior in college and depended on government help to get out of poverty.
The 65,000-seat domed stadium is expected to bring 14,000 permanent jobs to the Las Vegas area. The total deal also sends $420 million for convention center improvements aimed at keeping Las Vegas' convention industry competitive.
The hotel bill for an average night at a Las Vegas Strip hotel would go up about $1.50 as a result.
Two-thirds of each Republican-controlled chamber of the Legislature must approve any tax increase. Lawmakers are taking a break in observance of Yom Kippur and will resume on Thursday to discuss bills such as authorizing a sales tax increase to hire more police officers in the tourist corridor.
NFL owners would still need to vote by a three-fourths majority to allow the Raiders to move from Oakland to Las Vegas.