Owners slightly ease revenue, tax stances

Union's phase-in proposal not addressed

Manfred sees `directional problem'

Baseball

August 26, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Major-league owners delivered a new proposal to the players union yesterday that slightly decreased the annual amount they hope to redistribute through revenue sharing and increased their thresholds for a stiff luxury tax on the baseball's highest payrolls.

The new proposal would drop management's proposed annual revenue transfer from $268 million to $263 million and raise the threshold for the luxury tax from $102 million to $107 million for the first three years of the four-year labor agreement and to $111 million for the final year.

The owners also altered the tax rates, proposing a 35 percent charge on excess payroll the first time a team exceeds the salary threshold and raising the tax in increments of 5 percent each ensuing year that the same team remains above the ceiling. If a team exceeds the threshold in all four years of the agreement, the tax in the final year would be 50 percent.

"I think we made a significant move in their direction," said management negotiator Rob Manfred. "We're going in a straight line. They said they made a $5 million move on the [luxury tax] threshold. We did that, plus more."

Because Manfred continued to characterize the latest union proposal as a step backward, he left himself open to the charge owners were negotiating against themselves with yesterday's proposal. He forcefully insisted the movement was an attempt to get the talks back on track and called on the union to respond in kind.

"If they can't come up with a proposal that corrects their directional problem," he said, "you can be sure that we won't [do the same thing again]."

The ownership proposal did not represent a huge move on any of the core issues, but it was delivered less than 24 hours after a series of media conference calls on Saturday night deteriorated into a nasty war of words between Manfred and union executive director Donald Fehr.

The owners, however, delivered a proposal that all but ignored the union's attempt to phase in the full impact of increased revenue sharing over the entire term of the agreement.

The new proposal called again for equal transfer amounts in all four years that total $1.052 billion. The union proposal, which began with a total transfer of $172.3 million in the first year and graduated to $242.3 million in the fourth year (based on 2001 revenue figures), would add up to about $830 million.

So why don't the sides get back on the same page and simply negotiate the $222 million total difference in the two proposals, then decide how to phase it in?

"We've been narrowing the difference on revenue sharing," Fehr said, "but there comes a time when you have to begin talking about the phase-in, because we have to know how individual clubs would be affected. It's the same for the clubs."

The union's attempt to phase in the revenue sharing sparked the angry exchange on Saturday, but tensions seemed to have eased a bit after a pair of negotiating sessions yesterday.

There still is a wide gulf between the owners and players on both of the core issues - the union's proposed threshold for a payroll tax is $125 million in the first year - with just four full days of negotiating left before the players' Friday strike date.

Every day that passes without substantial progress significantly increases the possibility of baseball's ninth work stoppage since 1972.

The union apparently did not get the new management proposal in time to respond to it during last night's session, but Fehr indicated owners would likely get an answer some time today.

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