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Stadium not issue this session

January 10, 2001

Stadium not issue this session



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


ANNAPOLIS - For the first time in five years, the Maryland General Assembly will open its 90-day session today without Hagerstown having designs on a new minor league stadium.

Hagerstown Suns owner Winston Blenckstone announced the sale of the team Monday, unquestionably putting the idea on hold for this session.

Without the divisive issue on the table, the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly will have more time and energy to devote to other issues, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

"The stadium has had a polarizing effect and it has been detrimental," said Shank, the stadium's most vocal opponent among the delegation members.

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The delegation can concentrate on state funding for less controversial local projects such as the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center, widening of Interstate 81 and extension of the Hagerstown Airport runway, he said.

Funding issues are going to be paramount during the 2001 session, lawmakers said.

Gov. Parris Glendening said Tuesday he plans to pursue "historic investments" in education, particularly higher education and expansion of his Smart Growth program to curb urban sprawl.

Republicans have warned that Glendening's spending plan, to be unveiled next week, is based on overly optimistic economic projections.

"I see us in a very precarious position," Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard/Prince George's, told Glendening's budget advisers at a briefing Tuesday.

The mood is a stark contrast to that of last year's session, when the state had a surplus of nearly $1 billion.

Last session, the stadium issue consumed Washington County lawmakers and led to the passage of a hotel tax increase to raise money that the Washington County Commissioners can use for a new stadium or other local tourism, economic development or cultural projects.

The County Commissioners have not decided how to spend the extra $300,000 a year. Commissioner Paul Schwartz, a stadium advocate, said he thinks the money should be put in escrow for a future stadium plan.

Shank, who authored the tax increase that also raises money for debt relief, said he has no regrets about it - yet.

While he has criticized some plans to spend the hotel tax money, Shank said he wants the decision to be made by the commissioners.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he hopes the new owners will stay as involved in the local community as Blenckstone was.

Perhaps the new owners will buy themselves a new stadium, since it has become apparent there isn't enough community support for using local tax money to build one, he said. Mooney opposed the hotel tax increase, although he supports the idea of using state tax money for a stadium.

"I know the team's been good for Washington County. It would be a shame to lose it," Mooney said.

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