Dec. 31 stadium deadline considered by lawmakers

February 26, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

House and Senate leaders said yesterday they are considering introducing legislation that would cancel state financing for a football stadium in Baltimore if Gov. William Donald Schaefer fails to lure an NFL team there by year's end.

Both House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, acknowledged that the idea is on the table, but said they are uncertain if they will push forward with it.

Page W. Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, said, "All I can say is, the governor has not committed to do this."

The head of Baltimore's Senate delegation, John A. Pica Jr., said the city senators "unequivocally oppose any deadline of 12/31."

One effect of such legislation is that it could stave off efforts to cancel the financing outright and would give Governor Schaefer the rest of his final year in office to try to accomplish his dream of returning a National Football League team to Baltimore to replace the Colts.

Also, creating a deadline for the football stadium bonds to be de-authorized could mollify legislators who want the Baltimore stadium issue to be resolved once and for all.

Agreeing to a deadline also could become the first step toward a broader compact aimed at allowing the NFL efforts in Baltimore to continue without impeding plans by the Washington Redskins to build a new stadium in Laurel.

But continuing the stadium authorization for the rest of the year surely will be seen by the Washington Redskins as a threat to their efforts to build a new stadium in Laurel, only 14 miles away from Baltimore.

Redskins' owner Jack Kent Cooke, who plans to spend $160 million of his own money on a Laurel stadium and who has repeatedly said the Baltimore-Washington market is not big enough to support two teams, declined to comment yesterday on the proposed legislation.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Cooke declared that he was moving his team to Laurel "come hell or high water," with or without cooperation from Mr. Schaefer.

Legislators in both houses have been pushing to cancel the financing for the stadium, some hoping to use the money instead for some other purpose, such as for school or prison construction. Senator Miller, a key backer of the Redskins' move, also has been under pressure from Mr. Cooke to clear the way for the Laurel stadium investment to proceed.

But others familiar with the stadium controversy questioned why Mr. Schaefer would go along with a Dec. 31 deadline. As it stands, financing for the stadium is authorized indefinitely, so why would he support a bill that would put a deadline on his NFL efforts?

Moreover, Baltimore senators have threatened to filibuster any legislation intended to de-authorize the bonds, a move that could keep such a bill from passing the Senate.

"Baltimore City winds up a loser in every respect if an NFL franchise is not secured by December 31st," Mr. Pica said. "They'll be no consideration for an arena or any facility in this area if there is no football stadium, and we won't be granted any concessions from the Redskins."

Even if the obstacle of a filibuster could be overcome, Mr. Schaefer could veto any de-authorization legislation, which would have the effect of leaving the stadium financing in place. Because this is the final year of a four-year term, next year's General Assembly would be prohibited from considering an override of such a veto.

Legislative sources said Speaker Taylor and President Miller met with Governor Schaefer Thursday evening to discuss the stadium issue, and a call was placed to Peter G. Angelos, the Orioles owner whom Mr. Schaefer enlisted to help buy an NFL franchise to bring back to Baltimore.

Those familiar with the meeting said Mr. Angelos indicated that he should know by July whether or not he will be able to purchase a team, but that he opposes any arbitrary deadline because it gives an advantage to any team with which he is negotiating.

The stadium issue has begun to take a toll on legislative leaders, who complain that they have been spending most of their time on this one issue while scores of other important issues before the General Assembly are awaiting their attention.

"It's just an idea," a frustrated Speaker Taylor said of the stadium deadline legislation as he left the State House yesterday for the weekend "It's not alive yet."

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