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Cellucci hits city's fund plan for Sox

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/13/2000

arning that time is running out for the Red Sox ballpark plan this year, Governor Paul Cellucci yesterday rejected a tentative city plan that would allow Boston to recoup its investment in a new Fenway Park through a citywide parking surcharge.

Cellucci, who has an ironclad commitment to no new taxes, stopped short of pledging to veto a bill that contained new surcharges, but said he could not endorse them.

"I would not support that," Cellucci said. "I would suspect a citywide parking surcharge would be a problem."

Cellucci also expressed frustration with the pace of negotiations. Responding to reporters who suggested that with only two weeks remaining in the legislative session, the Sox may be forced to try again next year, Cellucci said: "It looks that way."

However Cellucci was adamant that he was not suggesting that the team's ballpark bid was dead. "I've been a strong advocate for the project all along and I remain one," the governor said last night. "This can still get done, but we've got to get an agreement soon."

Ballpark boosters noted that Cellucci agreed to a parking surcharge in Foxborough as part of the financing scheme that finally led to legislation providing state aid for the New England Patriots new stadium. "New parking fees led to the breakthrough in financing for a new Foxboro Stadium, so maybe they can lead to one for a new Fenway Park, too," said one source familiar with the negotiations.

City officials are considering a surcharge on parking lot and garage operators throughout Boston to offset the $120 million Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the city would invest in the team's ballpark project.

The fees could be structured on a sliding scale, with owners of the city's most expensive downtown garages required to pay more than those operating outlying cheaper lots, sources said. Although parking operators would pay the surcharges annually, the fees could average 25 to 50 cents per space per day, sources familiar with the still-evolving plan said.

Boston officials stressed yesterday that it is one of several ideas under review and that Menino has not formally asked state leaders for the authority he needs to impose the surcharge.

City records show there are more than 21,000 licensed open air spaces. There are also an estimated tens of thousands of garage spaces in Boston. Depending on how it is structured, the surcharge could generate substantially more the $9 million a year the city would need to recoup its investment.

Since the Boston fees would be paid largely by suburban commuters, the idea could face resistance on Beacon Hill, where Boston lawmakers are outnumbered by representatives from the suburbs. However supporters counter that if the measure was structured as a "local option" that would allow other cities and towns to impose parking fees to raise funds for specific projects, it's possible rank-and-file lawmakers might endorse the idea.

With the team battling to get a ballpark bill before state legislators before they adjourn on July 31, advocates of the parking surcharge also note the proposal has an added attraction -- it's simple.

"There aren't a lot of moving parts," said one source. "You don't have to run around getting a little bit here and there from a dozen different revenue streams. And since the state isn't currently collecting the fees, the city wouldn't be taking anything away from the state."

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, tied up in budget sessions yesterday, could not be reached to comment on the proposal last night.

Also yesterday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig sent a letter to the political leaders confirming the league is considering making a first-time-ever loan to the Sox to help build a ballpark. Selig also noted the league was investing in the project by allowing the Sox to use $8 million a year that it would normally pay in revenue sharing to fund the team's portion of the new ballpark.

Critics, however, are continuing their campaign to defeat the Sox proposal. They argued that by law, any new taxes and surcharges needed for the new ballpark requires a Home Rule petition, which must originate in the Boston City Council.

Since the council held its last full session yesterday, and will not meet again until after the legislature adjorns on July 31, there is no time left to consider new proposals, said Peter Catalano of the Fenway Action Coalition. However, State House sources insisted last night that a so-called local-option bill allowing other city and towns to impose fees as well as Boston could originate with state lawmakers.

While the Boston plan could require new fees year-round, in Foxborough, the surcharge is slated to be collected about 30 days a year, including game days, concerts and other large functions. The football parking fees are imposed at licensed lots within a 3-mile radius of the new Foxboro Stadium and are expected to raise about $1.4 million a year to repay the state's infrastructure aid.

This story ran on page D01 of the Boston Globe on 7/13/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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