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Lawmakers adding on to Fenway bill

Seek support for pet causes in trade for vote

By Meg Vaillancourt, Globe Staff, 7/28/2000

n the eve of the only public hearing on the Red Sox's financing bill for a new Fenway Park, state lawmakers yesterday rushed to add pet projects to the legislation, ranging from funding for a minor league expansion team in Worcester to creating a statewide cultural fund.

''There are only a few more shopping days till Christmas,'' quipped one lawmaker who declined to be identified. ''The session ends on Monday and a lot of legislators have things they've been unable to get for their district. Now, maybe they can trade it for a vote in support of the Red Sox.''

Governor Paul Cellucci filed the bill authorizing the $665 million ballpark project late yesterday afternoon. A day-long State House hearing on the measure will be held today. Both Cellucci and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino are expected to testify in support of the measure, but it was unclear whether Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham or House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran would do so.

All four political leaders crafted the legislation, the result of months of difficult negotiations over the Red Sox's ballpark proposal. At a Tuesday night summit meeting, they insisted the Red Sox and their fans bear most of the burden for repaying the city's investment in the project and cover cost overruns on land acquisition and cleanup.

If adopted, the bill will require the state to fund up to $100 million in infrastructure for the project and the city to spend $140 million to acquire and clean up the ballpark site. The city will be repaid through a combination of ticket surcharges, game-day parking fees, a 15 percent luxury-box surcharge, and hotel and in-the-ballpark sales and meals taxes.

Racing to consider the measure before they adjourn Monday, state lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the bill this weekend, though opponents said they hope to delay final action by offering waves of amendments and prolonging debate.

Because the bill calls for the state to issue infrastructure bonds, it requires a two-third vote in both the House and Senate. While lawmakers said support for the bill seemed stronger in the Senate, due in large part to Birmingham's support, some suggested the team may have a more difficult time in the House.

House opponents have scheduled a press conference to critique the project this morning. Despite Cellucci's pleas to support the bill, Republicans are among the most outspoken critics.

To block the ballpark bill in the House, opponents need at least 53 votes. ''There is enough concern anout this in the House now that we are approcahing the magic number,'' said Representative Byron Rushing (D-South End), whose district includes the Fenway. Horse trading over the bill may succeed in winning some converts, opponents of the measure conceded. But they warned that whatever lawmakers ''win'' in trading their votes could be stripped away in conference committee when the House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled.

''The leaders in both houses are negotiating hard, and there are probably enough district-based projects they can tack on to secure the votes they need,'' Representative J. James Marzilli Jr. (D-Arlington) said, ''But most of them won't survive the conference-committee process.''

While supporters shied away from publicly discussing the deal-making that occurs whenever such a massive project comes up, opponents were quick to point out a number of trades quietly being floated at the State House yesterday.

Representative Peter J. Larkin (D-Pittsfield), for example, is said to be weighing a plan to propose an am endment authorizing his long-cherished cultural facilities fund, in which cities and towns could get matching funds for restoring theaters, museums, and other such entities. Larkin was unavailable for comment last night.

House members from central Massachusetts, meanwhile, were exploring ways to use the Red Sox legislation to acquire as much as $12 million in state infrastructure funds to help establish a minor league baseball team in Worcester.

In an interview with a reporter from WTAG radio in Worcester yesterday, Representative William J. McManus II (D-Worcester) unabashedly acknowledged that he is willing to trade his vote in return for help in bringing a minor league team to Worcester. He also said he would consider opposing the Red Sox plan if he didn't get what he wanted.

''If you include the word `might,' that's accurate, yes,'' he said. Because of its proximity to Pawtucket and Boston, Worcester would need a waiver from the Red Sox and Major League Baseball to host a minor league franchise.

The Fenway Park bill was drafted in an all-night session led by the governor's legal counsel, Len Lewin, the speaker's chief of staff, Bill Kennedy, top Birmingham aide John McGinn, and Menino's chief of staff, James Rooney.

The final language includes funding for a feasiblity study for an exit ramp off the Massachusetts Turnpike, a pet project of Menino's. While the city must pay the Turnpike fair market value for land on which the city would build a new parking garage, the bill requires the Red Sox to give a slice of the land they own on the garage site to the city free of charge.

And in a bid to help the city fight the all-but-certain challenges to power to take land by eminent domain for the ballpark site, the legislation states that the project serves a legitimate ''public purpose,'' the standard used in assessing whether such land-takings are approrpiate.

The city also wins on the way the bill defines the game-day parking area. The city can collect a surcharge of $5 a car up to a mile away from the new ballpark - an area large enough to generate more than the $3.6 million a year in revenues estimated in the Red Sox financing plan. However, the bill includes language exempting area hospitals and the city's treasurer can exclude other spaces from the surcharge.

In a blow to the Red Sox, the bill does not specify that the city will receive $7 million a year in revenues from the city-owned garage, as expected. Instead the bill calls for the city to share an unspecified amount of garage revenues.

The bill also requires the Red Sox to obtain private financing for construction and offer proof that they can afford their part of the plan, before the state or city take any action on the project.

Under the bill now under consideration, the Red Sox would be required to fund $352 million to build the new ballpark, plus any cost overruns.

Red Sox chief executive John Harrington accepted the lawmakers final offer Tuesday night, but at a press conference he said that the financial burdens placed on the Red Sox will make the team's quest for private financing to fund the construction of the ballpark ''extremely difficult.''

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 7/28/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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