Senator scores winning pitch for stadium bill

A legislative plan to site a major league baseball stadium in Portland has struck out with Rep. Patti Smith, but received a winning pitch from Sen. Rick Metsger.

Metsger, D-Mt. Hood, authored two key amendments that accounted for the five vote switches needed to pass Senate Bill 5 on Saturday. The approval of the stadium financing bill by 16-11 margin was a dramatic turnaround from the day before, when it was defeated by an 18-12 vote. However, Smith, R-Corbett, disagreed with the bill even after Metsger proposed changes, voting “no” along with 23 of the 55 House members.

“This bill sets a bad precedent because it allows a private business to dedicate the income taxes paid by its employees toward a specific project — so what’s to stop other companies from asking for their own financing startup package?” questioned Smith.

Metsger said taxpayers will not front the money for the new venture, but all citizens could gain if it aided in Oregon’s economy recovery. He incorporated a provision in SB5 that prohibits public agencies from taking a guarantor role in the complex deal. In addition, he outlined that preference for stadium construction jobs should be given to companies within the state, with top consideration of women and minorities for other jobs created by the project.

“I didn’t want taxpayers on the hook, but I wanted Oregonians given first consideration for the jobs created by this project,” Metsger said.

SB5 would dedicate the income taxes of players and owners toward a projected $150 million for stadium construction. The overall cost of the project is estimated at between $300-$350 million and the remaining gap would be filled, according to proponents, by a yet undefined combination of Portland-area taxes and private financing.

Smith believes that income taxes paid by players should be dedicated, like other workers throughout the state, for essential programs, such as public schools, roads and safety.

“I love baseball but I can’t believe that in this session, with all of our budget problems, we spent so much time considering this bill,” said Smith.

Metsger admits to some skepticism about the success of Portland hosting the financially troubled Montreal Expos or another major baseball team. However, he believes the passage of SB5 provides an opportunity to promote tourism and open up jobs in the fiscally troubled state.

“There are going to be a lot of eyes on this project to be sure that they (baseball executives) are doing the right thing for Oregon,” he said.

Oregon is competing with Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia to establish a permanent home for the Expos. Major League Baseball, which owns the team, is expected to make a decision about the chosen location sometime next week.

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