With caveat, Browns deal gets support Top lawmakers back contract if limits on spending are met

Stadium foes rebuffed

Miller and Taylor say '87 legislation to stand

January 11, 1996|By Jon Morgan and Thomas W. Waldron | Jon Morgan and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

Rejecting calls for a renegotiation of the state's contract with the Cleveland Browns, the General Assembly's top leaders say they will support the deal to bring the team here as long as the project remains within the financial boundaries originally envisioned by legislators.

Some lawmakers, skittish about spending millions on stadiums during lean fiscal times, are trying to block funding for a Browns facility in downtown Baltimore or at least get the team owner to contribute more to the cost.

That likely would require canceling or renegotiating the deal the team signed Oct. 27 with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

But after meetings with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag in recent weeks, the legislature's presiding officers -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's Democrat, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Cumberland Democrat -- say they will support the Browns deal without modification, as long as it conforms to what was envisioned by the legislature in 1987, when lawmakers approved the twin-stadium complex in downtown Baltimore.

"There will be members of the General Assembly who will try to modify these agreements. It's not going to be myself or the speaker," Miller said.

"The stadium authority might have gone too far, but the deal has been made within the four corners of the law as passed by the General Assembly," Miller said. "The General Assembly is not going to undo legislation that was passed in 1987."

Miller said he did not disapprove of team owner Art Modell making money on the move to Maryland: "Mr. Modell is coming to Maryland with a signed contract. He's bringing a football team and he's coming to Maryland with the idea of reaping a windfall."

Taylor said some legislators will have questions and reservations about the deal, but he expected them to hear answers in coming weeks.

The speaker said he will support the project "100 percent" as long as it "falls within the framework of the statute" passed in 1987.

Under terms of the Oct. 27 deal, the state will build a $200 million stadium adjacent to Oriole Park with tax-exempt bonds and pay it off over 30 years with a mix of special sports lotteries, stadium revenue and contributions from the city.

The team will be allowed to raise up to $75 million in season-ticket fees, but can only use the proceeds to build a training complex, pay off the team's leases in Ohio and cover league-imposed fees and other moving-related expenses.

Revenues from the sports-related instant lottery games have not kept pace with projections, in part due to the introduction of lottery-run Keno games.

However, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. issued an opinion in November saying the law did not limit the stadium authority to using instant games. The opinion set off alarms with critics, who said the project would squeeze more from the lottery -- the state's third-largest source of revenue.

Responding to such concerns, the stadium authority's Moag last week gave Miller and Taylor a slightly restructured funding plan, one that calls for no more than $32 million a year from the lottery -- the maximum discussed during the 1987 debate -- to be spent on the football and baseball stadiums.

A financing plan passed by the stadium authority last month called for lottery proceeds to exceed that level in only one year: $35 million in fiscal 1998. Subsequent years would see a falling off in lottery needs as the stadium begins generating revenue and bond issues are paid off.

Glendening predicted yesterday that the Browns deal will survive the legislative session intact. "Will the contract be opened and renegotiated? Probably not. There is some danger in that. We have a binding contract," Glendening said.

"It has to go through a process, have these programs massaged. But when it's all over, I believe we'll have the votes" for both the Browns and public aid for a Redskins stadium in Prince George's County, Glendening said.

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