WASHINGTON – In the latest effort to keep the Browns in Cleveland, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio introduced a bill Friday that would increase Maryland’s cost of building a stadium for the team by about $36 million.
If the bill passes, the revenue bonds that the Maryland Stadium Authority expects to sell to finance the football team’s $200 million new home in Camden Yards would no longer be tax- exempt.
“Obviously I have a real interest in keeping the Browns in Cleveland, for the fans,” DeWine said. “If the Cleveland Browns are allowed to move, then no sports franchise in the country, no fans, are safe.”
The bill’s criteria would be retroactive to deals started after Nov. 1 and appear tailored to the Browns’ case. The bill addresses teams that have an unexpired lease in a public facility, have at least 75 percent attendance there, are relocating to a public facility, and have been funded with tax dollars for stadium improvements.
The Browns’ lease expires in 1999, but the team hopes to move to Maryland before then. The announcement of the proposed move was made Nov. 6.
“It would be wrong for the Browns to leave Cleveland,” DeWine said, “because the Browns average 70,000 [fans] per game, year in year out. They’re in their 50th year of fan support, and they’re number one in their local TV market.”
He added, “They get a higher share of their market than the Dallas Cowboys do.”
Under DeWine’s bill, all federal subsidies, tax-exempt financing and other benefits would be revoked from the team wishing to move from their community.
“I can’t come up with any logical reason the federal taxpayer should come up with $36 million and sweeten the pot to get the Browns to leave Cleveland and go to Baltimore,” DeWine said. “What my bill does is it just gets the federal government out of this.”
John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is overseeing financing and construction for the Baltimore stadium, said DeWine’s bill punishes Maryland for trying to give the Browns a new home.
“It appears to be motivated by vengeance against the city of Baltimore,” Moag said.
He added he didn’t anticipate the bill would pass.
Ray Feldman, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, said the governor was confident the agreement with Art Modell, the Browns’ owner, would prevail.
“We feel that in the end it will not stop the Browns from moving to Baltimore,” Feldman said.
The bill is being cosponsored by another senator from Ohio, Democrat John Glenn. It has no sponsors from any other state.
The DeWine bill is the most recent move in a tug-of-war over the football team.
The city of Cleveland and the state of Maryland have filed lawsuits citing the “irreparable harm” that they would suffer financially if either went without a team.
Moag has estimated that Modell could earn $30 million more a year by moving to Baltimore.
A state report projected that a Baltimore stadium could generate $9.2 million in additional state and local taxes and create more than 1,300 jobs. The report put the total economic impact in the state at $111 million. NFL owners are set to vote on the Browns’ proposed move to Baltimore Feb. 8. The Browns need the approval of 23 of the 30 owners. -30-