A member of the Senate State and Local Government Committee is an attorney with a law firm that could benefit from the passage of the legislation enabling Randy Boyd’s taxpayer-funded baseball stadium in Knoxville.
Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville sits on the Senate State and Local Government Committee, the first stop for SB 0783.
The bill would redistribute the state and local sales tax revenue collected within one-quarter mile of the center point of Boyd’s stadium to the newly-formed sports authority in order to pay off the taxpayer-funded debt for the stadium.
Normal partisan politics would call for a Democrat to oppose taxpayer funding that would benefit a multi-millionaire, hundreds of times over, who also happens to be a Republican, as evidenced by Boyd’s 2018 primary run for governor.
But Yarbro is also an attorney with Bass, Berry & Sims, a Tennessee-based law firm with more than 260 attorneys with dozens of service areas.
One of those service areas is public financing for government entities.
In fact, Bass, Berry & Sims promotes on their website, “Over the past three years, we have represented cities and counties across Tennessee on more than 200 general obligation bond transactions valued at a combined total of approximately $4.5 billion.”
That public financing includes, for example, such sizable projects as $225 million of bonds for construction of Nashville’s Major League Soccer stadium, an $8.5 million public bond offering for the Tri-Cities Airport Authority, $100 million of bonds for Montgomery County’s multi-purpose event center and a $24 million bond issue for the ballpark where the Memphis Redbirds play, with Bass, Berry & Sims representing the government entities as bond counsel.
Mamantov has already been involved in the creation and development of the Sports Authority of the County of Knox and the City of Knoxville. In fact, the charter document names Mamantov as the initial registered agent of the Sports Authority.
The Sports Authority is considered to be the first step in getting Boyd’s minor league Smokies team back to Knoxville from Sevier County.
The second step is the creation of a special tax district, through a new state law, so that the state and local sales taxes generated within one-quarter mile can be redistributed to the Sports Authority in order to pay for the cost of the stadium.
The estimated costs to taxpayers for Boyd’s stadium is $65 million, plus a 20 percent contingency for a total of $78 million. The figures, however, do not include the interest payments of $4 million annually for the bonds issued to fund the ballpark, which could very well be handled by Bass, Barry & Sims as bond counsel.
The two main sponsors of the special tax district legislation is Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville).
Co-sponsor in the Senate is Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) and House co-sponsors include Michelle Carringer (R-Knoxville), Eddie Mannis (R-Knoxville), Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville), Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) and Dave Wright (R-Corryton, Part of Knox County).
Of the eight sponsors and co-sponsors, five have them received a combined total of more than $90,000 in campaign contributions from individuals who are connected to Boyd’s stadium, The Tennessee Star reported.
One of those campaign financiers was Mamantov, who contributed the following amounts to the bill sponsors and co-sponsors:
Massey – $1,600
Briggs – $1,100
Carringer – $500
Mannis – $1,300
McKenzie – $250
The connections between Bass, Berry & Sims and state legislators go further.
Tennessee law requires that as part of the registration process for lobbyists and their employers, a statement be filed that includes the extent of any direct business relationships between the lobbyist and any candidate for public office or any official in the legislative or executive branch.
The Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance (BECF) has a webpage that publishes the disclosures of lobbyist relationships with those officials.
While disclosures for 2021 are not yet an available option to select on the BECF webpage, both Vick and Corley are listed in the 2021 Tennessee Lobbyists Association Membership Directory as lobbyists to the Tennessee General Assembly on behalf of their clients and various public policies.
Meanwhile, the corresponding House bill HB 1204 is bypassing any other committee review and is headed straight for the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 24.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.