Power of the purse came to the rescue Millions in state aid won key legislators opposed to stadium

March 22, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Two football stadiums will be built in Maryland at a cost of $270 million in public funds because three top officials who don't always get along worked in harmony, forced concessions from team owners and dispensed millions of dollars in state aid to win the votes they needed.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening invited Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. to "put their stamp" on the financing plans he had negotiated, and they did.

The owners, Jack Kent Cooke of the Washington Redskins and Art Modell of Baltimore's new team, agreed finally to put more of their own money into the deals. Without their concessions, the governor's initiative might well have failed.

Success also depended on a willingness to hand out a range of favors: publicly financed schools and roads, committee assignments and contracts for minority-owned firms.

Mr. Glendening readily acknowledged yesterday that he and the legislature bargained for votes by spreading public money before reluctant senators and delegates. The commitments include:

For Montgomery County, $36 million in school construction money in exchange for seven votes from rock-solid spending opponents there. (Only five of the promised votes were delivered for the Baltimore project. "That's more than $7 million a vote," a House leader complained.)

For Baltimore County, road construction money and $500,000 for a school mentoring program.

For Southern Maryland, $1 million in "impact aid" to help public schools cope with an expanding Patuxent Naval Air Station in Lexington Park.

For Baltimore lawmakers, a commitment to greater minority participation in construction of the stadium at Camden Yards.

In a statement distributed after yesterday's favorable House vote, Mr. Glendening said his vote-generating gifts were consistent with his administration's policies.

"I'm governor for the entire state. I ran on education, and I ran on jobs," he said, referring to his 1994 election platform.

These pledges and others added spice to what many legislators regarded as a difficult but predictable outcome.

In a time of revenue shortages and private industry layoffs, the General Assembly would at first resist, then follow the iron law of legislative life in Annapolis:

Leadership, with its financial power and its ability to confer favors, almost always wins.

Still, the session began with supporters as well as opponents loudly ridiculing the governor's generosity. Too much money for the moguls of sport, they said. Mr. Cooke of the Redskins was a target even though he was spending $160 million to build his facility.

Polls showed vehement opposition to the stadiums in every subdivision.

"Any moment of wavering, and this deal could have been lost," said Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat. One of the county's few pro-stadium votes, Mr. Franchot helped the leadership and put himself in line for an Appropriations subcommittee post.

Some in the Assembly wondered if Mr. Taylor, possibly a candidate for governor in 1998, or Mr. Miller, an old antagonist of the governor, might allow the spending bills to die to embarrass and weaken a governor neither has been close to personally.

But institutional imperatives are strong in the Assembly: No speaker or Senate president wishes to see a major state initiative fail in his chamber.

One vote to spare

The spending was approved in the Senate with just one vote to spare. There were 10 in the House.

"I think all of our interests dovetailed in the best interests of the state," Senator Miller said.

"Write anything you want," said an elated Speaker Taylor. "I'm very happy."

In the final hours before yesterday's climactic House vote, Mr. Glendening's office was referring to a "continuum of support," reaching back through several Democratic governors, all of whom had urged approval.

Without the adjustments that yielded more money from the team owners, stadium supporters would have been disappointed.

"I told the governor that without concessions, he couldn't count on my vote," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Others promised to vote against the Redskins project if a financial commitment did not come from Prince George's County.

Wayne K. Curry, the county executive, refused to make one and seemed willing to see the team go elsewhere.

In the end, though, he anted up $12.5 million sent to him via changes in state transportation funds.

Mr. Cooke wound up pledging another $2.5 million to offset state costs. Mr. Modell promised $24 million, though over 10 years and which does not begin until 2001.

Opponents fought on, calling the $24 million concession an ultimate fig leaf since payment terms seemed to reduce its value, providing the flimsiest cover for a legislator defending his or her vote, said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., the Montgomery County Democrat and a leading stadium opponent.

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