RALEIGH It could be a tough game for the Carolina Panthers.
Team officials hope to persuade the state of North Carolina to give them as much as $62.5 million toward a planned $250 million upgrade of Bank of America Stadium.
They also hope state lawmakers agree to authorize the city of Charlotte to raise the so-called meals tax .
Most NFL teams are worth at least $1 billion, said Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican. It looks like they could pay for their own upgrade.
Neither the team nor the city has so far made any formal proposals. Team owner Jerry Richardson and President Danny Morrison met Monday with Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both Mecklenburg County Republicans.
Tillis has said he doesnt favor any direct state appropriation. But he said he would treat the team like any other major employer. That apparently leaves open the door to state incentives, which could come from the Commerce Department.
The Panthers also are asking $125 million from Charlotte. While the City Council has tentatively endorsed raising Charlottes food and beverage tax from 1 percent to 2 percent to help cover that, lawmakers would first have to approve raising the local tax.
But interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers on Wednesday, the opening day of their session, suggest even that might not be easy.
I love the governor, I love the speaker, I love the City of Charlotte, said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes of Hickory. But Im not sure the House is prepared to raise the sales tax on food.
Rep. Craig Horn, a Weddington Republican, said the Panthers are going to have an uphill battle trying to convince me I should support that.
Its a private enterprise, he said. Sports is big business. Were paying players millions of dollars a year.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said while he might support the city raising the meals tax, I just dont think now is the time to be funding a football stadium.
Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger of Eden said hell wait for details of the Panthers request.
I think members of the Senate understand the importance and value of having an NFL team in North Carolina, he said. Well listen to what they have to say and see what if anything we can do.
Some fear team could move
There did appear to be some support for stadium help.
Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said if Charlotte wants to raise a local tax, We probably should let them do it. As far as state help, he said that should be viewed like any other incentives we offer.
Richardson is 76, and some fear that a new owner might someday move the team to Los Angeles, which is looking for an NFL franchise. Other NFL cities also have been concerned about their team moving to California, including the Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills.
Tillis said this week that moving is a very real possibility for the Panthers.
But Rep. Robert Brawley, a Mooresville Republican, didnt seem concerned. If they go to California, theres somebody else who will come in, he said. Were an attractive state and I think people will come without us buying their friendship.
Some hope it doesnt come to that.
No elected official wants to be responsible for seeing the Panthers leave North Carolina, said Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat.
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