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Cleveland could get women’s pro soccer stadium under proposed Ohio House spending bill

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Cleveland could get women’s pro soccer stadium under proposed Ohio House spending bill

Feb 09, 2024 | 4:40 am ET
By Morgan Trau
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Cleveland could get women’s pro soccer stadium under proposed Ohio House spending bill
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The Cleveland soccer community is thrilled that the Ohio House passed a spending bill that includes a million dollars to create a pro women’s stadium downtown.

Helena, Maia and Chloe Murphy love being on the field, and dad Michael loves soccer, too. He runs the Cleveland Soccer Group, an organization trying to get a National Women’s Soccer League team to the 216.

“It’s so critical that our young girls, including my three daughters, have ‘sheroes,'” Murphy said.

His dreams may become a reality.

The Ohio House passed a part of a spending bill, one that gives $1 million to create the women’s soccer stadium.

“It’s really a chance for Ohio and Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to step up and say, ‘We’ve been very fair in funding men’s professional sports facilities in the state for a long time; we haven’t done anything for women,'” he said. “Here’s a chance for equity, inclusion and really to grab lightning in a bottle.”

Right now, Ohio is competing with several other states for the next pro women’s team in the country.

Cleveland Democratic state representatives Bride Rose Sweeney and Terrence Upchurch fought for this funding.

“I’m really proud of the work that we did to put people over politics and to put money back into the hands of our constituents and our communities that we represent,” Sweeney said.

The building of this stadium could show the league that the state is serious about the bid, Upchurch added.

“This is just another sports team that will just be an economic driver, hopefully a community partner and an asset to the city of Cleveland — along with our many other assets we have,” he said.

But it’s possible that the Senate will take out this money.

This spending bill, House Bill 2, contains two different aspects so far. There is the $350 million one-time funding that came from a surplus from the last operating budget, and there is $1.65 billion in other bondable appropriations — totaling about $2 billion.

This is confusing, which the lawmakers acknowledge.

In plain English — the projects slated to receive the $1.65 billion are typically in the capital budget — however, the House Finance leaders wanted to get the projects done before the full and extensive capital budget comes out.

There are concerns with the amount of funds given, though, Murphy said.

“There has to be substantially more dollars,” he said.

That being said, he and Sweeney share the belief that this is just the starting point of the conversation.

“We love our Cavs, our Browns, our Guardians — our NWSL club would be the fourth major league team in the same breath,” Murphy said.

The bill is headed over to the Senate.

Chamber drama

It would be an understatement to say that House Speaker Jason Stephens and Senate President Matt Huffman have a contentious relationship.

The pair make polite jabs at each other during press gaggles, but behind the scenes seem content with not working with each other.

For example, the Senate passed a proposal dealing with marijuana policy — restricting marijuana possession, lowering THC levels and making it more expensive. The House refuses to take it up because they believe the Senate is “going against the will of the people.”

The Senate passed S.B. 83, a controversial bill overhauling the higher education system. House leadership has continued to let it stall, saying there are problems with it — angering Senate Republicans.

The House passed the previous two-year operating budget in a bipartisan manner, like they did with the portion of H.B. 2. However, the Senate basically decimated the House’s proposal last year — causing them to go into conference committee for an extended amount of time to bargain for their needs.

Huffman is expected to challenge Stephens for House speakership next January. He has a faction of supporters within the House currently, and candidates have told WEWS/OCJ that Huffman has helped support their bid to knock out the Stephens’ team incumbents.

Moving back to the budget:

That one-time funding amount is $700 million total. According to House Finance Chair Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), the House and the Senate agreed that each chamber would get to decide on half of it — or $350 million.

That was repeatedly echoed throughout the budget process by the representatives. Then, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) released a statement Wednesday, potentially killing all of the project proposals.

“To be clear, there is no such agreement,” Huffman wrote in a memo to the Senate members. “The bill passed by the House did not include negotiations or discussions with members of the Senate or with the Senate President.”

Huffman never agreed not to touch the House’s half, he seemed to say.

“Approving a large spending bill without additional debate would be irresponsible and an abdication of the duties of the Senate,” he added. “Normally, both chambers work together to create an agreed upon bill. For unknown reasons, the House chose to break from that process.”

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) seemed annoyed at the president’s claims — and addressed the memo to reporters after the session.

“It was widely published that the House was going to deal with $350 million, the Senate was going to deal with $350 million — which is exactly what we did,” Stephens said.

Edwards said the reason why the House moved ahead of the Senate was because the other chamber was “ready with their projects,” and had asked the House finance leadership. The Senate finance leadership asked the House to put their projects and money up now, he said.

“It was also agreed upon at that time that our $350 wouldn’t be touched by them,” Edwards continued. “Their $350 wouldn’t be touched by us — they get to spend their $350 however they want.”

Huffman doesn’t seem interested.

“The Senate will continue to follow its timeline announced in December for this year’s Capital Budget process which includes the additional $700 million for the One Time Strategic Community Investment Fund, with the goal of both chambers passing a single agreed upon bill later in May or early June,” he said.

Upchurch took a swing at the Senate, as well — preparing for if the other chamber tries to take out the soccer stadium.

“These folks claim that they care about women’s sports; I think that supporting this project is a way to do that,” the Democrat said.

He is referencing H.B. 68, legislation that banned transgender middle and high schoolers, plus college, from participating in athletics with cisgender peers. Advocates for the bill said this would protect the integrity of women’s sports. Opponents argued that supporters have never cared about women’s sports before.

This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.