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Menino may kick in more for ballpark

City's investment would be $140m

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/19/2000

Signaling a renewed commitment to a new Fenway Park, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is poised to increase the city's investment in the project by $20 million, sources familiar with the ongoing ballpark financing talks said yesterday.

Menino had previously said the city would contribute no more than $120 million and stipulated that the Red Sox could use the money only for land acquisition. But he is now willing to provide $140 million to acquire and clean up the 10 privately owned acres the Red Sox need for the $627 million ballpark development, the sources said.

With the Sox racing to get a ballpark bill passed before the Legislature adjourns July 31, the additional city aid would close a funding gap that has been the subject of intense negotiations between the city and state for weeks.

In return for the increased contribution, Menino will seek a guarantee that the city will receive $11 million a year in revenue to recoup its investment.

The mayor was unavailable last night. But sources said he has privately indicated he is willing to raise the city's investment.

''The mayor is making it clear he wants this project, and he's anxious to work with state leaders to meet their objectives as well as his,'' said one source. ''This can get done.''

Menino wants the city to be paid back through a new citywide parking surcharge, an idea he raised with state lawmakers two weeks ago. Depending on how it is structured, this fee alone could generate the $11 million a year needed to pay the debt service on the $140 million, which would be raised through a bond offering.

Although Governor Paul Cellucci is a strong supporter of the ballpark project, he has promised to veto a citywide parking surcharge, arguing that it represents a tax. Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham has endorsed the idea, however, and sources say House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran is considering the proposal.

A two-thirds vote by the House and Senate would be required to override a veto. But supporters of the surcharge note that the $100 million in state infrastructure aid that would be part of the financing package would also require a two-thirds vote by each branch. Including the bonds in a ballpark bill could help ensure the measure is veto-proof, they say.

In any case, Menino remains open to other payback options.

For example, he has agreed to use hotel, meals, and sales taxes transferred from the state to help repay the city. He said he would also consider a limited game-day parking surcharge or a 10 percent fee on luxury boxes.

A combination of revenue streams could generate $11 million a year for the city, and most of the proposals have general support from Cellucci, Finneran, and Birmingham.

The only financing option Menino adamantly opposes is using property-tax revenue generated by development of the current Fenway Park site. State officials argue that these taxes should count toward the mayor's payback requirement, but Menino has said he needs the revenue to pay for growth in basic city services.

Menino's apparent willingness to increase the city's contribution puts the spotlight on Cellucci and Finneran. The city's decision to pay cleanup costs also addresses Finneran's reservations about using state infrastructure funds for soil removal and other site-preparation work.

Ballpark supporters say Finneran has already won his financing demands. For example, Menino, Birmingham, and Cellucci have already agreed that state funds will be used only for infrastructure, and that the state will retain all parking revenue if it builds the large garage the Red Sox want.

''Finneran's principles now define the ballpark package,'' said one House member. ''So why would he insist on being an obstacle, unless he doesn't want to get to yes?''

According to sources, some representatives, including members of Finneran's leadership team, have encouraged the speaker to endorse a citywide parking fee. Supporters note that the plan would not require the state to divert revenue it now collects, and that other cities and towns could impose similar fees to fund cultural and recreational projects.

City officials also say that because the idea is simple - one surcharge, rather than a complicated menu of revenue streams - it could be easier to sell on Beacon Hill.

The Red Sox declined to comment on the financing negotiations.

There is, however, the crucial question of timing.

By law, Cellucci has 10 days to veto a bill. Strictly speaking, for the Legislature to have time to take up a veto, lawmakers would have to pass a ballpark bill within the next two days, in case Cellucci takes the full 10 days to consider it.

The Legislature could adopt a bill later, but then the governor could kill it by refusing to send it back before lawmakers adjourn.

If lawmakers back a citywide parking surcharge, though, advocates hope that the governor's support for a new ballpark will entice him to veto the measure promptly - and send it back to the Legislature for a quick override vote, just as he did several years ago with taxes proposed in the new convention center bill.

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/19/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.


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