Bill aiding Louisville Arena Authority clears House budget panel - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bill aiding Louisville Arena Authority clears House budget panel

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- The House budget committee approved a bill Tuesday night that would give the Louisville Arena Authority more time to collect tax revenue to aid debt payments for the KFC Yum! Center – part of a plan to improve the board’s financial outlook.

House Bill 330 cleared the panel by a 22-1 margin, with two members choosing not to vote. It is sponsored by Republican Reps. Jeff Hoover, the House Speaker, and David Osborne of Prospect, the Speaker Pro Tem, and Democratic Rep. Joni Jenkins of Louisville.

The arena authority has pushed for the measure allowing the tax-increment financing district around the Yum! Center to generate money for up to 45 years. The district now is set to expire after 20 years, or as early as 2029.

Tax-increment financing earmarks a share of the yearly increase in sales, income and property tax revenue in a two-square-mile area downtown for arena debt. It has failed to meet original projections, causing arena officials to ask Metro government for a larger annual contribution and press the University of Louisville to renegotiate its lease for the building.

“I talked to the University of Louisville today and I’m meeting them again on Thursday,” arena authority chairman Scott C. Cox told lawmakers. “And we will have an agreement with them that will be acceptable.”

Under the tenure of Cox, whom Gov. Matt Bevin appointed last year, the arena authority has warned it may not be able to make a series of ascending debt payments on the Yum! Center’s construction bonds as early as 2020.

As part of a restructured finance plan, the authority hopes to refund its construction debt at lower interest rates and with a better rating on bonds that now are considered “junk.” The board, appointed by Kentucky’s governor and Louisville’s mayor, first needs state lawmakers to pass House Bill 330.

The request comes as Mike Harmon, Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts, has launched a review of the arena authority that was requested by the state’s capital projects and bond oversight committee. Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat who serves on that committee, long has raised concerns about the arena deal, including a lease that gives U of L the bulk of Yum! Center revenues.

Wayne argued that the General Assembly should wait until Harmon’s audit is complete before acting on an arena bill. The audit could be finished by the summer.

"My concern is we be very deliberate and very thorough in realigning the finances here," said Wayne, who case the lone vote against the bill.

Besides Cox, Bevin's executive cabinet secretary, Scott Brinkman, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's chief of staff, Ellen Hesen, spoke in favor of the measure. Brinkman, a former Kentucky House member, told the committee that the Yum! Center bonds would not be refinanced until Harmon's audit is complete.

Also in attendance in Frankfort were Louisville Metro Council President David Yates, Democratic council members Barbara Sexton Smith and Marianne Butler and Republican members Kevin Kramer and Robin Engel.

While primarily meant to help the Yum! Center, the bill also applies to all tax-increment financing districts in Louisville that were created under a state pilot program that take in up to six square miles. The Renaissance Zone near Louisville International Airport also would qualify.

Stephanie Smith, spokeswoman for the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, said in a statement that the flexibility created by the measure is “important,” and that the agency will support the bill if asked.

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