Not So Fast on That Stadium

Friday, August 21, 1992; Page A24

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IF ANY Virginia legislators needed more reason not to be stampeded into a hurry-up special session about a football stadium, the latest revelations should do it. What Gov. Wilder was prepared to toss at the feet of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke in those super-secret talks and in a "letter of intent" included big public money both in state and local revenues. Without so much as a word of warning to legislative leaders, the governor agreed in the letter to use his "best efforts to call a special session ... as soon as practicable, but no later than 90 days from the date hereof" (June 12). Now just because the site is Potomac Yard, there's no reason for a legislative railroading through Richmond. The governor should not only get everything he promised out on the table but also should give key committees all the time they need to consider the financial stakes.

Besides, Gov. Wilder is now backing away from the language of that letter, explaining that "there is nothing binding" in any discussions he has had with Mr. Cooke. That is yet one more huge reason for not rushing to judgment; stadium talks with Mr. Cooke never seem to be "binding." If the governor doesn't know what it would take in state promises of money and exemptions from taxes (more money) to get a deal, the state legislators don't have a clue at this point.

To make matters even shakier, Gov. Wilder has warned that the agreement has been modified by "working papers" that have not been signed by the parties. These papers will not be released until "the transaction is completed," the governor's cover letter states. Take that,taxpayers.

The issue here is much more than a place to play ball on Sundays. Gov. Wilder is seeking exceptions to tax policies, gifts of land for a private concern to develop and a waiver of height restrictions on sites near National Airport, among other commitments. There is nothing here that spells out how a sufficient amount of other development specifically generated by a stadium could be guaranteed to keep this project from a being a financial loser for Virginia. If Gov. Wilder insists on trying to ram a plan that is still not fully public through Richmond this year, the only prudent response from the senators and delegates will be to kill it.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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