Portland, Ore., perhaps the Washington area’s chief rival for the Montreal Expos, yesterday received a punishing blow in its baseball efforts as the Oregon Senate soundly defeated a $150million stadium financing package.
The 18-12 vote on the bill, which would have authorized the use of income taxes on players and club employees to pay off construction bonds, was not even close to projections of passage by stadium supporters.
The vote does not definitively kill Portland’s chances of landing a team because several alternative strategies are being considered, including pressing for a formal vote by the Senate to reconsider the bill. That reconsideration vote could happen as early as today.
But yesterday’s vote still serves as a strong statement against the heavy public-sector stadium subsidies Major League Baseball demands as it deliberates on the future of the orphaned Expos. And the Senate long had been viewed as the key legislative hurdle in Portland’s baseball dreams.
Predictably, Oregon stadium supporters blamed the defeat on political infighting.
“This is strictly due to the politics in [the Statehouse] and not the merits of the issue itself,” said David Kahn, director of the Oregon Stadium Campaign, the lead lobbying effort in favor of baseball. “This is certainly disappointing, and it hurts. But until it’s over, it’s not over.”
Debate on the proposed measure yesterday was heavy, extending a vigorous political battle that has raged in the state for months. Much like the hot stadium debates in the District and Northern Virginia, Oregon concern centered on guaranteeing public-sector stadium bonds, and assisting a private entertainment enterprise when funding for education and social services is under attack.
“Anyone who has the money to pay a player $10million a year has the money to build their own stadium,” said Republican Lenn Hannon, an ardent opponent of public stadium financing.
Not surprisingly, Washington area baseball boosters cheered the vote.
“This reduces the field somewhat, but I never did really look at Portland as a real competitor due to the differences in market size,” said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
Portland, with a metro area population of about 2.5million, is less than half the size of metropolitan Washington. Had the Oregon Senate approved the stadium bill yesterday, Gov.Ted Kulongoski pledged his signature, and the measure would have placed Portland ahead of the District and Northern Virginia, which are seeking some type of conditional award of the Expos before completing site and financing work.
But it still was nowhere near the $350million in total financing needed for a proposed downtown stadium. The other funding measures were not firmly defined but likely would have employed some type of hospitality taxes, as well as some private capital. Portland also has yet to have any prospective ownership groups surface.
“If private interests are out there for this, why aren’t they showing themselves?” said Democrat Rick Metsger.
Besides the local bidders, Monterrey, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico, also are seeking the Expos, either on a one-year basis for next season or permanently. MLB officials have made no secret of their desire to globalize baseball as much as possible. But issues involving stadiums, currency, TV markets and local income levels make both international bids far from a sure thing.
MLB President Bob DuPuy said last week some type of decision on the Expos’ future could be made by Labor Day, but most industry insiders do not expect anything to happen until the fall.
MLB officials said yesterday they could not immediately say how Portland’s stature with their relocation committee would be affected by the vote.
Ryan Deckert, chairman of the Oregon Senate’s finance committee and a key stadium supporter, yesterday changed his ‘yea’ vote to ‘no’ in a procedural maneuver as he seeks that reconsideration vote. If at least 16 of the 30 senators agree to reconsider the measure, a conference committee between Oregon House and Senate legislators will be appointed. Should that committee then agree on a new draft of the bill, it would need approval from both legislative bodies. This complex scenario, however, is seen even by stadium advocates as a long shot.
The stadium supporters also are battling the clock because what is already the longest legislative session in Oregon history could end by the middle of next week, potentially leaving just days to resurrect the dying effort.