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Audit: Revenue Can't Fund All Of Arizona Sports Authority's Obligations

University of Phoenix Stadium
Sarah Beckman/KJZZ
file | staff
University of Phoenix Stadium

The debt owed on University of Phoenix Stadium will likely not be on the minds of Arizona Cardinals fans when the team kicks off its 2015 regular season this Sunday, but a recent audit shows the revenue streams created to help build the stadium are falling short.

In 2000 voters approved funneling bed-and-rental-car taxes to the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority to finance stadium construction, Cactus League baseball fields, youth facilities and grants.

The audit conducted by Arizona’s Office of the Auditor General concludes bed-and-rental-car tax monies have been insufficient since 2011 and could eventually impact the Authority’s ability to meet financial obligations.

The audit recommends the Authority work with stakeholders and the Arizona Legislature to deal with the shortfall. Options should include charging the Cardinals and National Football League more money because they benefit most from the stadium, said David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition.

“I have never seen a profitable multi-billion-dollar business at the trough — the public trough — the way we’ve seen sports leagues and team owners shamelessly take taxpayer money and not give anything back in return,” Goodfriend said. “They say to us essentially, ‘You should just be grateful that we are here.’”

Complicating matters are Maricopa County Superior Court rulings that the rental car tax is unconstitutional and must be refunded.

Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority President and CEO Tom Sadler said the decisions were incorrect and he’s confident it will be overturned on appeal.

If that doesn’t happen, the Authority will lose as much as a third of the money it pays out annually, said attorney Shawn Aiken, who represents rental car companies that sued the state.

“In the 1930s, Arizona and many western states passed a state constitutional provision requiring that any taxes on vehicles had to be used for a highway purpose," Aiken said. "That’s been the law for 80 years.”

Aiken estimates that rental car tax refunds could eventually reach $150 million.

University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006. It has been the site of two Super Bowls and will host its third college football national championship game in January 2016.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.