RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia's top legislative budget writing and oversight panel is questioning Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration for cutting a $6.5 million deal behind its back with the Washington Redskins.
Republicans and Democrats grilled senior administration officials for an hour Monday, asking repeatedly and without success that they validate claims that the wealthy team would leave its massive Loudoun County complex without the incentives.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Lacey Putney said McDonnell knew the legislature opposed the Redskins incentives, yet proceeded anyway without ever notifying him or other senior lawmakers. Martin Kent, McDonnell's chief of staff, said after the inquisition that some panel members were told, but could not identify them.
"How did they explain this financial need?" Putney, a conservative independent from Bedford who caucuses with House Republicans, demanded of Kent, who addressed the panel on behalf of the Republican governor who is on a state trade mission to Europe. "What written documentation do you have from the Redskins threatening to leave?"
Putney, his face reddening as he spoke, told Kent of his frustration and embarrassment at learning of the payout to keep the NFL team in Virginia from news reports during the first week of June.
He said an angry constituent who had supported him and McDonnell walked into his office clutching an editorial criticizing the deal and asked, "Did you vote for this damn thing?"
Kent called the deal, hastily concluded between the governor and his top economic development advisers, "risk mitigation."
It obligates the state to pay $4 million from discretionary funds the governor controls, $2 million paid over four years from the Washington exurb of Loudoun County, and nearly $500,000 from the city of Richmond, where the team would hold its three-week summer preseason camp for eight years starting in 2013.
Redskins Park, located on 160 acres near Ashburn, includes four full-size football fields for practices, a state-of-the-art sports medicine and strength training facility and offices for the Redskins coaches and corporate staff.
The team plays its games at a stadium in Landover, Md. Finance Secretary Richard D. Brown said the Redskins' 113 employees include one of the best-paid player rosters in professional football. Estimated at $167 million annually, the roster yields about $6.6 million in state personal income tax receipts.
Asked how certain the administration was that the team would be recruited away by Maryland or the District of Columbia, Kent said he was not involved in the negotiations but could not assign a reliable degree of probability to the prospect that the team would abandon its Virginia home of 41 years.
"We really viewed this as a business deal," Kent said. "In terms of risk mitigation, I don't think you can put a percentage on that." Kent noted that professional sports franchises across the country pressure local and state governments to subsidize their operations, particularly to construct huge showplace stadiums, under threats to depart for other cities willing to accommodate them.
But, under questioning, Kent conceded that no binding contract between the Redskins and the state and two localities yet exists. "What we have is an agreement in principle," Kent said.
The issue was among several that call into question the level of trust between the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Republican administration.
"We advised (McDonnell) five different times that there was no support for this concept," said Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, as delegates on the panel vented their resentment at being ignored. Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said the Redskins deal pales compared with the administration's hushed, hurried handling of efforts to privatize the Port of Virginia without legislative input or oversight.
"This is about communication and trust," Jones said. The only former NFL player on the committee, Del. Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach, scoffed at the administration's warning of a mass exit of millionaire Redskins players from Virginia should owner Daniel Snyder move the team.
"These players don't uproot their families and kids during the season and move them into D.C.," said Tata, who played in the 1950s for the Detroit Lions.