Del. Frank B. Pesci (D-Prince George's) has drafted legislation that asks the state legislature to revoke the tax break given to the Washington Capitals hockey team by the county's council.
The Capitals, who play their home games at the Capital Centre in Landover, were granted a tax concession last fall after their owner, Abe Pollin, told the council he needed it to keep from having to sell or fold the team, which has operated here since 1974.
The exemption, which lowered the tax from 10 percent to one-half of one percent on each ticket sold, passed the council by a 10-to-1 vote. Council member Sue V. Mills, who cast the dissenting vote, also has introduced a bill that would strip the team of the exemption, but the council has agreed to delay its vote until after the current hockey season. Pesci's legislation would require the amusement tax to be administered "uniformly," without exemptions.
Del. Charles J. Ryan, chairman of the county's House delegation and an opponent of the idea, has asked the attorney general's office to rule on whether the General Assembly has the legal authority to play any role in the matter, because Prince George's is a home rule county.
"I don't think we should be involved," Ryan said. "I think this is a County Council matter."
Pesci, who said he thinks "the tax should be the same for everybody," is confident the bill is legal. "It was the state which granted the authority for there to be a tax," he said. "I had the people who drafted the bill in legislative reference work with the attorney general's office in wording it so it would be correct."
If the ruling is favorable, the 23-member Prince George's delegation must decide Friday whether to suspend its rules against late-filed local bills. The bill also could not become law until after this season is over.
County Council Chairman Frank P. Casula, an advocate of the exemption last fall, said "I don't think the assembly should get involved in this; it's a council issue. Frank shouldn't be doing our job; it's inappropriate. If we don't do our job, then the people can run us out of office."
Mills said she had no problem with Pesci's bill. "I'm not into pride of authorship and there's more than one way to skin a cat," Mills said.
Sentiment in the House delegation was mixed but Capital Centre advocates expressed confidence that even if the bill paseed the House it would have little chance with the county's seven-member Senate delegation, which is closely allied with county political leaders Peter F. O'Malley and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. O'Malley is the Capital Centre's lawyer and once was president of the Capitals.
Jerry Sachs, president of the Capital Centre, declined comment, saying "we feel any discussion of this issue at this time is inappropriate."