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Another day, another tax plan. All-night numbers crunching moved baseball players and owners only a tiny bit closer to a deal.

Owners replaced their escalating payroll tax with a flat tax Sunday. The union, however, said it would act like a salary cap, leaving the sides far apart.Management negotiator John Harrington said the plan was a "substantial move" by the owners, who received the union's latest proposal just 27 hours earlier. The plan also has provisions for a secondary tax that owners said would ensure salaries don't escalate.

It didn't seem as if the day's bargaining produced progress, but the owners said their plan embraced some of the union's ideas on future joint ventures.

"They offered us some very interesting, enlightened concepts yesterday that seemed to have opened the door to a partnership," Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten said. "We think it behooves us to go through that door."

Union head Donald Fehr said his side needed time to analyze the plan but his initial reaction wasn't positive.

"At first blush, it appears their new proposal contains virtually all the elements of the salary cap," he said.

Even as they offered the new plan, the owners said their salary cap proposal of June 14 remained on the table. Management negotiators asked the union to formally respond within 24 hours, and reminded the union there is a meeting of all owners scheduled for Thursday in Chicago.

Harrington has said previously that owners will declare an impasse and impose a salary cap unless an agreement is reached by then. A management lawyer, speaking on condition he not be identified, said general managers were sent a packet of material Nov. 28 detailing how baseball's rules would change following the imposition of the cap.

Fehr said the union will respond to the proposal only when it fully understands the proposal, but said his group will try to have an answer by Monday.

"If (the owners) need to rush off to their meeting, then they'll do whatever they do," Fehr said.

Owners said the plan for a two-tiered tax showed significant movement. Their previous tax proposal, made Nov. 17, called for an escalating rate that would have gone as high as 77 percent using 1994 figures.

"I don't know what to make of it," one union lawyer said of the plan. "It's bizarre."

In another development, union lawyer Eugene Orza said the Labor Department has certified the strike. That means clubs can't ask for visas for replacement players.