The fate of a plan to build two football stadiums in central Maryland shifts this week to a legislator from the mountains, a sports-loving Notre Dame graduate who needs to cut the cost of the projects so he can sell them to his colleagues in the House of Delegates.
For a variety of political and legal reasons, much of the burden of frenzied pro-stadium negotiations falls on House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
"Casper is the most important player," says Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat. "The facilitator has to be Casper. He's from the outside. And he has a conciliatory personality."
Mr. Taylor will need all his skills to modify the two stadium deals agreed to by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, changes needed to win approval in the House.
The deals -- $200 million for a Baltimore stadium for the former Cleveland Browns and $73 million for a Redskins stadium in Landover -- are simply too generous, many lawmakers say. Many are now demanding that Baltimore team owner Art Modell and Prince George's County contribute to their respective projects.
Such complaints will be heard often this week in Annapolis, first at a public forum tomorrow on the Redskins deal, then Wednesday, when two House committees hold hearings on proposals to kill or modify the deals.
A six-term veteran of the House whose bookshelf displays a basketball signed by members of the University of Maryland's basketball team -- and a football autographed by Heisman Trophy winners from Notre Dame -- Mr. Taylor's own game is legislative politics.
The 61-year-old Cumberland Democrat has impressed a range of political and business figures in Maryland over the years with his thoughtful approach to public affairs.
His central role in the search for a compromise arises, in part, from legal constraints imposed on the Glendening administration virtue of the contract it signed with Mr. Modell. The state risks legal action if it appears to be reneging on the original pact.
At the same time, Speaker Taylor is helping to guide at least
three contentious parties to a formula that would satisfy a demand for cost-sharing by Prince George's County.
Now, the county is to get a $160 million, privately financed stadium for the Redskins and $73 million from the state for parking lots and road work -- without spending county funds.
Mr. Taylor has spent hours with Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, searching for ways to secure a commitment for a county contribution to the project. A significant number of legislators are saying they won't vote for a bill that does not include an "equitable" contribution from Mr. Curry -- set by them at $23 million.
Mr. Taylor and other legislative leaders have agreed to recalculate the distribution of state highway funds so that Prince George's, along with other counties, gets a bigger share. From that increase, Mr. Curry would return a portion to help reduce the $73 million pledged to the Landover project by the state.
To make that arrangement work, however, the state would have to make up to Baltimore highway funds that would be extracted from the city under the new distribution formula. One option under consideration, according to Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, is state takeover of maintenance responsibility for that portion of Interstate 95 that runs through the city.
But even if the city's concerns are addressed, the highway money will not be enough to cover Prince George's County's $23 million share. Other revenue sources remain under consideration, including a surcharge on Redskins tickets.
Mr. Taylor -- and others -- have also tried to convince Mr. Modell that the political realities will oblige him to accede to the legislature's demand that he help pay for his stadium.
House leaders are pushing a proposal that would require Mr. Modell to contribute $24 million for the Camden Yards facility. The Maryland Stadium Authority could lend him the money and he would repay it over several years.
"I keep getting little whispers that we're making progress," said Mr. Taylor.
John A. Moag Jr., chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, says he is grateful for Mr. Taylor's diplomatic approach even as he tries to improve the deal Mr. Moag helped craft.
"He has clearly been a leader in the process of trying to ensure the integrity of the agreement with the Browns," Mr. Moag said. ** "At the same time, he's been extremely sensitive to the feelings of his members."
In addition to the continuing search for financing plans that satisfy all the parties, this week will include an outpouring of public support for the stadiums -- and opposition as well.
"We sent out notices to the community groups and asked them to come," said Del. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's Democrat and stadium opponent.
Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for the Redskins, said the team has organized a big demonstration of support for the stadium. "We've energized some of our supporters to both testify and demonstrate."
Several dozen supporters are expected at tomorrow night's forum, including the Redskins marching band. "This is a show-the-flag hearing," Mr. Evans said.
The speaker will seek consensus more quietly, though he and the other legislators will be conscious of the demonstrators. They want to be re-elected, after all -- and some talk of Mr. Taylor as a possible candidate for governor in some later year.
Now, though, his associates say, his gubernatorial aspirations have been subordinated to getting the stadiums built.