Football stadium proposals pass Senate test Baltimore, P.G. projects gain approval

March 14, 1996|By Peter Jensen and C. Fraser Smith | Peter Jensen and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

After months of debate, the controversial proposals for state-financed professional football stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County survived their first key vote in the General Assembly last night.

Working late into the evening, the Maryland Senate gave tentative approval to a $14.5 billion state budget that includes $200 million to build a stadium for Baltimore's new team in Camden Yards, as well as $70.5 million for roads and other infrastructure for a stadium for the Washington Redskins in Landover.

In a decision that set a pattern for efforts to kill the projects, opponents were turned back in their plan to divert money for Baltimore's stadium to school construction. The amendment, the first of nine offered, lost 25 to 22 after almost two hours of speeches from both sides.

While final approval by the full Senate is now considered likely this week, the two projects also must clear the House of Delegates. Leaders there say they believe they have enough support to win approval for the stadiums as well, but they have kept their vote counts private.

Opponents will launch one more attack when the budget comes to the House floor next week. Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, said there are some 20 to 30 delegates whom he considers swing votes who may control the fate of the stadiums.

In a written statement, Gov. Parris N. Glendening applauded the action by the senators. "They were able to look beyond the short-term political rhetoric to the substantial long-term benefits these projects will bring to our citi- zens," he said.

While the Senate support was just barely above the 24-vote majority needed in that chamber, it was almost exactly what Glendening aides had predicted.

The stadiums have been the most contentious issue of the rTC legislature's 90-day session, and the Senate debate last night reflected the heightened emotions. Montgomery County senators, joined by Republican and rural colleagues, directed most of their criticism at the proposed $200 million for the stadium at Camden Yards.

"The stadium is a glaring, misplaced priority," said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat. "This issue is not football, but who pays for it."

Opponents portrayed the project as an extravagance at a time when spending is tight and a poor investment that would not generate enough jobs to justify its cost. Many pointed to public education as a more important priority that could benefit from the dollars being used for the stadium.

"You have to learn to say 'no' once in a while," said Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a St. Mary's County Democrat. "If we have a priority in this General Assembly, it ought to be education."

Stadium supporters countered that Mr. Glendening is investing $133 million in school construction this year, the most in two decades, and they urged their colleagues to recognize issues that go beyond the bottom line.

"If we kill this bill," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, "nobody will shake the hand and make the deal when they know Maryland puts deals on the table and pulls them back."

Most of the job-producing, dollar-impact arguments were presented pro and con and both sides addressed the stadiums' intangible value as well.

"There's much more to this than 11 people on a field. It means a lot of pride to Baltimore and to the state of Maryland," said Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat.

But the $270 million price for pride and prestige is far too high, said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat.

The Maryland Stadium Authority will build the Baltimore facility using a combination of lottery revenue and long-term bonds. The bonds will be repaid over 30 years with revenue from the stadium and lottery proceeds.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke will spend $160 million to build that team's stadium, with the government paying for infrastructure.

Legislative leaders have been cautiously optimistic about passing the stadium funding packages after forcing concessions from both team owners and securing a pledge from Prince George's County to kick in $12.5 million to cover the Landover project's infrastructure costs. In all, the concessions including Baltimore team owner Art Modell's agreement to contribute $24 million over time reduced the state's commitment by about $40 million.

Last night, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry came to a final stadium agreement with the Redskins and state officials.

Before taking up the stadium funding, the Senate agreed to $167.6 million in cuts from the fiscal 1997 budget submitted by Mr. Glendening.

Legislative leaders have described Mr. Glendening's original budget as a lean proposal that they have made leaner. In fact, lawmakers are hoping the governor will soon restore money to some programs that he deleted, including prison education, day-care inspection and a juvenile boot camp that is slated to close.

Roll-call vote

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