Funding for stadiums secured $270 million OK'd for sites in Baltimore, Prince George's Co.

'A great vote'

House of Delegates votes after emotional debate over priorities

March 22, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Ending months of contentious debate over the cost of returning professional football to Maryland, the House of Delegates voted yesterday to approve state funding for stadiums in Baltimore and Prince George's County.

House passage of the state's $14.5 billion budget, which included $270 million in stadium spending, guaranteed legislative approval of the projects and hands a major victory to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who had made them his top priority for the General Assembly session.

"Responsible members of the House ignored the political rhetoric which has characterized much of the debate on this issue and voted their conscience based on what is good for the entire state," Mr. Glendening said.

With funding secured, Maryland Stadium Authority officials hope break ground on the Baltimore stadium by Sept. 1 and finish the project by the summer of 1998.

Construction on a new home for the Washington Redskins in Landover, to be paid for largely by team owner Jack Kent Cooke, is expected to begin in a few weeks.

The stadiums won support from a coalition of legislators from the Baltimore area and Prince George's County, with support from a handful of rural Democrats and eight defecting Republicans. Five Montgomery lawmakers voted for Baltimore's stadium, breaking ranks with the rest of their county's delegation.

"It was a great vote," House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said afterward. "I just feel real good about it."

The House approved the $200 million Baltimore stadium by a vote of 81-57, with two members excused because of possible conflicts of interest and one not voting.

Later, by a vote of 80-59, the House approved the state's contribution of $70 million in road and other infrastructure improvements associated with the Redskins project.

With the Senate having given its approval to the spending, final passage of the stadium projects is only a formality and will come after the two chambers iron out differences over other areas of the state budget.

Long process

The governor, along with Mr. Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., worked for months to line up the votes necessary to approve the two stadium projects.

Legislative leaders, particularly Mr. Taylor, pushed to modify the deals negotiated by the Glendening administration and in the end sliced roughly $40 million from the projects' original cost to the state.

The state will recoup that savings over an unspecified period of up to 30 years.

Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John A. Moag Jr. stood glumly with arms folded in the House gallery as delegates spent much of yesterday's 2 1/2 -hour debate criticizing the deal he negotiated last fall that brought Cleveland's football team to Baltimore.

"I'm relieved," Mr. Moag said after the vote. "I'm glad it's over."

He said the authority would ask the state Board of Public Works for approval Wednesday for the financing plan for the 68,400-seat Baltimore stadium.

'97 budget in question

At issue yesterday were efforts by opponents to strip money for the stadiums from the state's budget for next year.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, who proposed an amendment to kill the Baltimore project, urged his colleagues to appreciate the significance of the stadium spending.

"The vote we are about to take speaks volumes about who we are and what we are about and where we are headed as a state," said Mr. Poole, a Democrat from Hagerstown. "This all boils down to spending priorities."

Other opponents recited a litany of problems that they said demand state money more urgently than playing fields including education, care for the developmentally disabled and aid to the homeless.

Del. Sharon M. Grosfeld, a Montgomery County Democrat, tried to deflect the commonly heard argument that the legislature was compelled to approve the Baltimore stadium project because it has been authorized for nine years.

"Public policy is not a stagnant concept. It's fluid," she said. "It's not set in stone and neither is the stadium."

Reversed stance

Ironically, one of the strongest defenses of the Baltimore project came from a delegate from Montgomery County, where anti-stadium sentiment is almost a religion.

Del. Peter Franchot, a Democrat, told the House that he had made a mistake when he voted against the funding for the Camden Yards stadium complex when it was first authorized in 1987.

"For those of you who are going back and forth on this, who might vote against this because of the public opposition, think about Oriole Park at Camden Yards," Mr. Franchot said. "I made a political vote 10 years ago. It was the wrong vote."

Mr. Franchot and four other Democrats from Montgomery County broke ranks with their county colleagues to support the Baltimore stadium project.

To secure those votes, the governor promised he would earmark $36 million for school construction in the county a Montgomery priority.

"I realized however I voted, it wouldn't change the outcome," said Del. Henry B. Heller, one of the five Montgomery Democrats who supported the Baltimore stadium. He said he asked himself, "Could my vote help get school construction money for my county?" He decided it could.

Several delegates took the floor to complain about the state's involvement with the Redskins project.

"They're asking you to take $22.5 million and spend it on a parking lot for a millionaire," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III, a Prince George's County Democrat.

But supporters highlighted the large investment Mr. Cooke will make in an area that badly needs economic development.

"We have a situation where a wealthy individual wants to invest some $160 million of his own money in this state," said Democratic Del. Donald C. Fry from Harford County.

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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