Gov. Harry Hughes and the legislature's leadership have agreed to support two bills in the General Assembly here that would ensure Edward Bennett Williams' ability to obtain state-backed, low-interest loans if he decides to build a new stadium for the Baltimore Orioles.
The bills were introduced last night after a hurried meeting between Hughes, Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer and legislative leaders, and are the outgrowth of a Saturday meeting between Hughes, Williams and several legislators.
The two bills, which simply clarify the provisions of an existing state loan guarantee program, were described today as a means of keeping Williams' options open on a possible new stadium rather than a substitute or alternative to Hughes' current proposal to spend $22 million renovating Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, the Orioles current home.
"It's like an extra teaspoon on the table," said Janet Hoffman, Schaefer's liaison with the legislature. "I don't think it will ever really be used. It's just there because the bill filing deadline came up (Monday night) and these things are put in, in case they are needed later on."
Hughes told reporters today that he thought the present state law provided "sufficient authority" for Williams, the Washington attorney who purchased the Orioles last year, or anyone else to obtain state-backed loans for a sports stadium. "This (the bills) is just to make it perfectly clear," Hughes said.
The legislation, officially introduced by Del. John Hargreaves (D-Carolina County), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, concerns industrial revenue bonds issued by local jurisdictions under a state program.
The bonds, normally used by county governments to attract new industry, are backed by the state and thus can be obtained at low interest rates. They do not constitute a direct subsidy for businessmen; rather, the state effectively borrows money on behalf of private developers.
The bills spell out the authority of the counties to issue the revenue bonds on behalf of a developer building a sports stadium.
Hughes said he does not know where Williams might locate a stadium if he decides to build one, but added, "I would certainly hope that it would be in Baltimore or very nearby."
Hargreaves said Williams is interested in a site along the I195 corridor, beginning in the Camden Station area of Baltimore and extending into Howard County. In the past, Williams has also been said to be interested in an I-95 site near Laurel proposed by Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
Some legislators said yesterday the bills might represent an effort by Baltimore to provide Williams with more persuasion to continue leasing Memorial Stadium for the Orioles.
Many legislative leaders believe that Baltimore must obtain a new, multiyear lease of Memorial Stadium to assure passage this year of the $22 million plan to expand the stadium for the Baltimore Colts football team.