SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's weak job market could spur lawmakers to help bring the National Football League back to Los Angeles, which has not had a franchise for more than a decade despite its standing as the second largest U.S. media market.
At 12 percent, California's unemployment rate was the second highest of any state in July and in Los Angeles County the jobless rate that month was worse, at 12.4 percent.
Economists expect California's double-digit jobless rate to persist for some time, a problem rising to the top of the priority list for state leaders who had been bogged down with state budget politics from January through June.
Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday unveiled a plan for tax incentives to help encourage hiring after this month appointing a jobs czar tasked with, in part, promoting payroll growth by cutting the state's red tape.
Supporters of a new football stadium in downtown Los Angeles now want help from lawmakers so the project is not stalled by state regulations or lawsuits over the rules, which would complicate efforts to relocate an NFL team to the city.
The project could easily be put on hold by famously litigious Californians, said economist John Husing at Economics & Politics Inc, which tracks Southern California's economy.
"All it takes is $178 for anybody walking down the street to file a lawsuit and that will delay a project one, two, three, four years," Husing said.
State Assembly Speaker John Perez is backing the stadium proposal, endorsed by the Los Angeles city council, and has tapped lawmakers to help rally support for it in his chamber.
In the state Senate, lawmakers will take up the stadium proposal in a hearing on Friday. There supporters will make the case that legislation to speed regulatory review and to potentially shield the proposed project from lawsuits is needed so hiring for it can start as soon as possible.
Senator Tony Strickland backs the project because it is seen creating 20,000 to 30,000 jobs: "It's a no-brainer ... We're in a crisis situation when it comes to jobs."
Strickland, whose district includes part of Los Angeles County, plans to rally support among fellow Republicans in the legislature's minority for the stadium plan.
He faces two challenges. First, Republicans from rural districts are no fans of policies favoring Democratic Los Angeles. Second, San Diego-area Republicans may see the plan as a lure for the San Diego Chargers to move to Los Angeles.
San Diego's NFL franchise desperately wants a new stadium and has roots in Los Angeles, where it was launched in 1960.
Perez, from Los Angeles, faces a different challenge. Many fellow Democrats may be reluctant to back the stadium plan after suspending environmental laws for another proposed NFL stadium just east of Los Angeles.
"I'm interested in finding what the legislature can do to help revitalize job growth in Los Angeles through the stadium proposal," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, a Democrat. "But we don't need to settle for a bad deal."
"I don't want to see a repeat of last session when our environmental laws were weakened at the last minute as a stadium bill rushed through the legislature," he added.
AIMING FOR 2016
State lawmakers won't be asked for money for the $1.2 billion stadium project. Anschutz Entertainment Group aims to privately finance it.
The Anschutz Company subsidiary could not be reached for comment on the stadium plan, which involves Los Angeles selling $275 million in tax-exempt bonds to tear down part of its convention center to make way for the stadium. Lease payments for use of that land, parking revenue and taxes linked to rebuilding the convention center would pay off the debt.
Los Angeles has been without NFL football since the mid-1990s. Under AEG's plan, an NFL football team would be playing in its 68,000-seat stadium in 2016. The stadium, named Farmers Field, would be next to Staples Center, which AEG owns.
Majestic Realty Co is also ready to move forward with its rival plan for a privately financed, $800 million, 75,000-seat stadium east of Los Angeles near where Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties meet.
"We can break ground as soon as we can get a team," said John Semcken, a vice president at Majestic Realty.
(Editing by James Dalgleish)