Stadium support may haunt governor Most Maryland voters still resent spending of millions, poll shows

July 24, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

A new poll shows that a solid majority of Maryland voters still resents spending $270 million on two football stadiums pushed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, suggesting that it could emerge as a key issue in his race for re-election.

The poll of likely voters, conducted for The Sun and other news organizations, also found that they are divided on whether to allow slot machines at horse racing tracks. But voters ranked many other issues, including education and crime, as far more important to the state.

The most striking findings concern state spending for new football stadiums for the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins. More than 60 percent of voters oppose them, and the state spending on those projects lacks support even in the areas likely to benefit most.

"The Redskins stadium, I think it's horrible that the state is paying for access roads that are only used on game days," says Margaret Bevans, 57, a Democrat from Prince George's County, home of the stadium. "It's a horrible waste of money."

The poll, conducted by Potomac Survey Research of Bethesda from July 9 through July 13, found:

Voters are split on whether to allow slot machines at racetracks. More oppose slots than favor them, but some opponents soften their view when told of the money slots might generate for the state.

Voters are concerned most about education. In Baltimore, 43 percent of voters gave their schools a grade of "D" or "F"; in Prince George's County, 37 percent of voters gave their schools a grade of "D" or "F."

Crime is the second-most important issue statewide, but it's the top one in Baltimore, where 41 percent of voters name crime as their greatest concern.

As for their own financial situations, more than one-third of voters say they are better off than they were four years ago. Half say they are doing about the same, and 11 percent say they are worse off.

Not yet decisive

Despite the unpopularity of state funding for the stadiums, the issue is not yet a decisive one for many voters. But the poll shows Glendening could be vulnerable on the issue and face more attacks on the point in both the primary and general elections.

Glendening backed spending $200 million on the Ravens stadium and $70 million on roads and other improvements for the Redskins stadium in Prince George's County.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Eileen M. Rehrmann has not quibbled with the use of public money for stadiums but has criticized Glendening for not striking a better deal with the Ravens. Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey has said the money would have been better used on school construction.

"The stadium deals are definitely not helping him," says pollster Steve Rioux, "but it's not clear how much it's hurting him."

One typical comment comes from Cathy Parsons, 50, a Democrat from Montgomery County, where 70 percent of voters oppose state funding for Baltimore's new Ravens stadium, which opens Aug. 8.

"I don't see why our taxpayers should be paying for that when our school system is in need of money right now," Parsons says.

But she is likely to vote for Glendening anyway -- particularly if his opponent is Sauerbrey. "I know that she's incredibly conservative," Parsons says, "and I'm not."

Outlook on slots

The outlook on allowing slot machines at racetracks is less clear, though it has emerged as a key issue among several of the candidates for governor.

Only 1 percent of voters think gambling is the most important issue facing Maryland. Nearly half of all voters -- 48 percent to 39 percent -- oppose allowing slots at the racetracks. And fewer than a third of voters agree that the state should help preserve the horse-racing industry.

That suggests that Glendening -- who has made "No slots, no casinos, no exceptions" a campaign slogan -- could benefit from his stand. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican challenger, has taken the same position.

Glendening's position has won him points with Albert Warner, 57, a Republican who lives in Baltimore but works as a police officer in Ocean City. He is likely to support the governor, in part because of his opposition to slot machines.

"It worsens the economy more than it helps it," Warner says. "I've seen people come in and put every dime they have in the world through these things."

But 15 percent of those voters who oppose or are undecided on slot machines said they would be "more likely" to support the idea if the state could raise $100 million a year from new taxes, as Rehrmann and others have claimed.

Sauerbrey has also left the door open to allowing slot machines as a way to revive the racing industry.

Amy Dickman, 23, a senior at Towson University, says she is "hesitant" about allowing slot machines but might support them if the money went to pay for education.

"I know that we need state money for faculty and classes that we just don't have," Dickman says.

More than half of all voters, 54 percent, believe that allowing slots at racetracks would lead to more legalized gambling, including casinos.

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