A Prince George's County Council committee, warned that it was disrupting the concentration of the Washington Capitals hockey players, voted unanimously yesterday to wait until the end of the season to discuss legislation that would strip the hockey team of a $1 million tax break awarded last year.
Most members of the committee said, however, that they would still vote to repeal the tax break when the bill comes up again in April or May, at the end of the season.
Representatives from the Capitals told the six committee members that the debate over the repeal was "disruptive to the concentration of the players," according to Glenn T. Harrell, a lawyer representing the team.
The team finished in last place in the five-member Patrick Division of the National Hockey League last season, but is currently in third-place and is a playoff contender with a record of 20 victories, 15 losses and 11 ties.
Capitals General Manager David R. Poile said the players have been concerned all season about rumors that the team might have to be sold or moved, and said he has even taken calls about the rumors in the middle of a game. "Right after the game we had to go down and tell the players they weren't true," he said.
Council member Sue V. Mills introduced legislation Jan. 4 to repeal what she called a "tax inequity" passed by the council last year after Caps owner Abe Pollin said he would have to sell the then-losing team unless he received concessions from the council and the community. Pollin demanded a break from the county's 10 percent amusement tax levied on tickets, which the county granted for six years. The tax had brought in about $1 million in tax revenue.
Mills, who cast the lone vote against the Caps last year, was one of a number of council candidates who campaigned on a promise to repeal the concession. The bill she introduced was referred to the fiscal and planning committee, which she chairs, where it was discussed yesterday. Also deferred was a resolution introduced by Councilman Anthony Cicoria that requested Pollin to make the private financial statements of the team and the Capital Centre, which Pollin also owns, available to the council.
Council member James Herl moved to defer the bill, saying he wanted to spare players and fans the "emotion" surrounding the discussion, but only after making clear that he would later vote to repeal the tax break.
"I think the Cap tax break is preferential treatment of one business over another," said Herl. "I campaigned on that issue and it's going to be hard to go back on it now . . . . We're also in a little different position than we were last year. Now we have a projected $30 million shortfall. It is very difficult for me as a public official to go to the state and ask for more aid at the same time we're giving away tax breaks to business."
Mills said she went along with the delay because her bill would not take effect until after the season anyway, "but when they came in I said 'I hope you'll be able to give me this argument with a straight face.' "
Councilman William Amonett apparently took the threat to the players more seriously, saying "I hope the members of the press won't do any more damage than has already been done by writing articles about what's being said here."