Two House of Delegates committees and House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) took turns today shooting holes in Gov. Harry Hughes' plan to create a professional sports authority that would oversee the state's $1.1 billion sports industry and probably build a new stadium.
The authority, as envisioned by Hughes and a sports advisory commission he appointed, would use the proceeds from a new state lottery game and admissions tax revenue to build and maintain a $174 million stadium that consultants have recommended be built south of Baltimore.
Cardin said the governor's sports authority bill takes too much power away from the legislature.
"I can tell you without equivocation that the governor's bill will not pass the General Assembly," Cardin told the House Ways and Means Committee. "We will not give such broad power . . . . to an authority."
Cardin and other legislative leaders also have complained that without a long-term lease from the Baltimore Orioles, Memorial Stadium's prime tenant, no stadium should be planned or built.
Sports commission Chairman Bernard Manekin moved to blunt that criticism today by producing a letter from Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams. In the letter, Williams confirmed for the first time publicly his long-rumored preference for a new stadium.
"We are especially pleased that there is under consideration the erection of a new stadium, and we want to express our willingness to enter into a long-term arrangement for the use of such a stadium, assuming that we can work out satisfactory arrangements," Williams wrote.
The Orioles' current three-year lease at Memorial Stadium expires at the end of the next season and contains provisions for one-year renewals every year for the next three years, according to Larry Lucchino of Williams' Washington law firm.
In his letter, Williams said that he prefers that a baseball-only stadium be built that is open-air and has natural grass, but he did not go into any detail on what "satisfactory arrangements" would have to be made in order to reach such an agreement.
"All this is is a letter of intent," said Manekin, who has been seeking such a statement from Williams for months. "That's all that I can expect of Mr. Williams."
Cardin proposed that Hughes' bill be altered so that any new authority be limited to football and baseball operations. Ways and Means Committee members also seemed to agree with Cardin's proposal that the authority report to the Board of Public Works and consult with the legislature.
Manekin, who defended the governor's plan, assailed Cardin's proposal. "If you create an authority but don't give it any authority, forget it," Manekin said.
Several legislators expressed concern about the sports authority's plan to finance the new stadium by starting a new lottery or committing the state to long-term debt.
"This puts a tremendous amount of power in the authority's hands," said Del. William H. Cox Jr. (D-Harford).
But Benjamin Bialek, Hughes' chief legislative aide, said the creation of a new authority "allows the state and the city to act cooperatively to retain the Orioles and work to get an NFL team to replace the Colts."
Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, a gubernatorial candidate who has made the stadium's future a political issue, called his own press conference in Baltimore to criticize Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer's insistence that a new facility be built within the city limits.
"The mayor wants to be the governor of the whole state, yet here is an issue where he can't see beyond the city line, even when it is best for the city," Sachs said.
Schaefer, an unannounced candidate for governor, said that he is angry at a consultant's recommendation that a new stadium be built in Baltimore County and plans his own response to Hughes.