Gov. Harry Hughes' chief aide told a stunned and angry House subcommittee today that a task force that had recommended building a $80 million Baltimore stadium had no documentation to support the proposal.
The news that a report prepared for the task force dealt only with the question of renovating the existing Memorial Stadium served to fan the incipient regional animosities between Baltimore and suburban Washington political leaders. Some of them disagree on the issue of funds for Memorial Stadium, and on whether a replacement should be built in the city or elsewhere along the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Many legislators assumed that the $25,000 consultant's report to the task force, appointed by Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer, had explored in detail the alternative of replacing the facility.
The task force, chaired by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. Vice President J. Henry Butta, recommended Jan. 15 that the new stadium be built, and promised to lobby the legislature for funds to build it.
The recommendation touched off a smoldering dispute involving, among others, the state's top politicians, the Butta task force and a state commission created last year to study professional sports issues in Maryland, including the stadium question.
Today's testimony by Hughes staff director Ejner J. Johnson appeared to add new fuel to the debate.
Subcommittee Chairman Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), obviously angry at learning the contents of the report, said: "This legislature is not accustomed to being steamrolled into capital appropriations. We don't make budget policy based on a whim or a conversation or a secret study."
At issue now is whether the Butta recommendation or that of the state commission -- which is about to hire a consultant to study sports issues -- will be the focus for the ongoing debate over the future of Baltimore's 31-year-old ballpark on 33rd Street.
Legislators not predisposed to a Baltimore location for a new stadium -- a condition handed to the Butta consultant -- say the state commission, chaired by Baltimore businessman Bernard Manekin, will look more objectively at sites outside the city and closer to Washington.
Johnson told the subcommittee today that the governor prefers to work through the Manekin commission. Johnson and Manekin testified today in support of Hughes' request for a $200,000 appropriation to allow the Manekin group to hire a consultant.
That apparent decision by the governor is sure to anger Schaefer, who believes that the Manekin group should stay away from the issue of a new stadium.
Schaefer, who was in Annapolis today, repeatedly declined comment on Johnson's revelation.
The Butta report delivered to the governor and discussed today by Johnson was not really the task force's report at all, said Christopher Hartman, a former press secretary to Schaefer. The real report, said Hartman, was the oral recommendation presented by Butta at his mid-January press conference calling for a new stadium.