CHICAGO -- A bill that would allow Wayne County, Mich., to place on the March ballot a package of proposed taxes to finance a new baseball stadium was introduced last week in the Michigan Legislature.
But some state officials, including Gov. John Engler, have suggested that the ability to put local taxes on the ballot in Wayne County should be extended to the state's 82 other counties as well.
The measure introduced in the House by Rep. Curtis Hertel, D-Detroit, would only allow voter consideration of a 1% tax on hotel-motel rooms and restaurant meals and a 2% tax on car rentals in Wayne County.
"I believe this is the fairest way to address the stadium issue," Mr. Hertel said last week in a press release. "If a new stadium is going to be built in Detroit, it should be built only after the approval of the people."
Earlier this month, Wayne County officials reportedly went to Lansing to lobby the Legislature for enabling legislation to place the taxes on the March ballot.
County officials plan to use the estimated $14 million in annual revenues to back municipal bonds to build a new stadium for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, even though the team has rejected the two Detroit stadium sites offered jointly by the county and the city and has ceased negotiations with the governments.
But, the introduction of the legislation may broaden its scope to allow other counties to ask voters to approve special revenues for projects.
John Truscott, Gov. Engler's spokesman, said the Wayne County proposal should be discussed in terms of other counties as well.
"Why only the Detroit area?" Mr. Truscott asked. "Why not offer it to everyone?"
Senate Majority Leader Richard Posthumus, R-Alto, was more adamant about extending the ballot privilege. According to his spokesman, Guy Gordon, Mr. Posthumus has said he would not support granting the authority only to Wayne County because other counties may want to increase taxes to support "whatever projects that will benefit their locality.
"If this is a good idea to ask local residents to increase taxes, why should it be granted to one jurisdiction in one part of the state?," Mr. Gordon asked.
He added that extending the authority beyond Wayne County could give the legislation "a far greater chance" for passage.
Steve Serkaian, a spokesman for House Speaker Lewis Dokak, D-Birch Run, said Mr. Dodak was in favor of letting Detroit and Wayne County do "what they believe is necessary for keeping the stadium in Detroit.
"If that means allowing the county to put an initiative on the ballot to raise local taxes, the county should be able to do that," he explained.
Mr. Serkaian said Mr. Dokak has not commented on extending the authority beyond Wayne County.
One project that press reports have tied in with expanding the legislation is the possible development of an arena and convention center in the Grand Rapids area. John Nunn, an executive assistant to Dick DeVos, who chairs the Grand Vision Committee that is looking into that development, said the committee did not ask to be included specifically in the Wayne County bill.
Instead, the committee was looking for assurances from the Legislature that, if any bills are considered for Wayne County's Tiger Stadium plan, "the language should be broad enough to include more than Wayne County," he said.
Mr. Nunn added that a finance arm of the committee -- made up of business, civic, and educational leaders -- was reviewing how the project could be financed but that no final decision on the project was expected until May.
He said private, public, and "a combination" of the two financing methods were being reviewed by the finance committee. He added that no decisions have been made on who would own the arena and how it would be used.
Grand Rapids had been granted a transition rule under the 1986 Tax Reform Act, allowing for the issuance of $80 million of tax-exempt bonds for a sports arena. However, the bonds were not issued by the Dec. 31, 1990, deadline.
While the tax act ended the use of tax-exempt financing for sports facilities, Wayne County officials have tied the proposed revenue package to the issuance of tax-exempt bonds for the stadium.
In a request for qualifications sent out to potential senior managing underwriters earlier in June, the county outlined a plan to issue $150 million to $200 million of tax-exempt bonds backed by county revenues and taxable bonds backed by team revenues.
In an Oct. 16 article in Detroit Free Press, Deputy County Executive Mike Duggan alluded to a "secret weapon" that would allow the county to issue tax-exempt bonds. However, county officials denied a recent written request by The Bond Buyer for an interview with County Executive Edward McNamara to explain how the county plans to finance the stadium.
A spokeswoman for the county executive's office did not return telephone calls.
Meanwhile, the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, which was formed to save the existing stadium, and other groups filed a petition containing 10,643 signatures with the Detroit City Clerk on Monday to force a March vote on using public money for the stadium and changing the lease the team has with Detroit for the current stadium. That lease runs until 2008.
Brian Tremain, a member of the club's executive committee, said another 500 signatures were expected to be filed yesterday. He added that the clerk has 10 days to certify the signatures and that only 7,362 valid signatures were needed to get the item on the ballot.