Stadium Foes File Lawsuit Claims Deals Aren't Legal

Posted: January 18, 2001

While Mayor Street works with the Phillies and Eagles to wrap up their stadium pacts and get the projects moving, opponents are suing to stop the $1 billion deal.

A complaint being filed today asks Common Pleas Court to strike down stadium ordinances adopted by City Council last month, charging they are "not only unlawful, but also violative of the spirit of constitutional and accountable government. . .in this city."

The action comes from the Consumer Education and Protective Association, the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group and the Green Party, all opponents of public subsidies in the deal, and Dr. Robert Sklaroff and Mitch Deighan, citizens who favored alternate ballpark sites.

The suit charges the deal obligates taxpayers to debt in excess of constitutional limits for the city, and illegally permits the final lease to be approved by resolution. The city charter requires that multiyear leases be OK'd by ordinance, a procedure that takes longer and has more rigorous requirements for public comment.

City Solicitor Kenneth Trujillo said yesterday that he's confident the city acted legally, but declined further comment. Phillies attorney David L. Cohen said the plaintiffs have the law wrong, and he thinks it's unlikely the suit will slow progress on new stadiums.

A city-related agency plans to issue $304 million in bonds for the stadiums soon, and the suit will have to be disclosed on the official statement that accompanies the offering.

In addition, the Eagles will be securing private financing for building their stadium, and a case with legal potential could conceivably make investors nervous. The Daily News was unable yesterday to reach Joe Banner, the Eagles' chief operating officer, for comment.

CEPA has sometimes been effective in court challenges. In 1989, the group successfully challenged an increase in the city's realty- transfer tax on grounds that City Council had violated charter provisions.

One issue in this case is a little-known requirement in the state constitution that ties the amount of general obligation debt a city can take on to a formula based on its property tax base.

The stadium deal was structured so that city payments are technically lease obligations to a city-related authority, avoiding the debt-ceiling problem.

The plaintiffs hope the courts will find that the stadium debt payments, roughly $31 million a year, should count against the debt ceiling and thus render the deal illegal.

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