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Smaller Companies Still Worried About Tax for Stadium

By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2004; Page E01

The plan for a publicly financed baseball stadium that the D.C. Council passed Tuesday would give major business groups much of what they want, but did little to ease the worries of some smaller companies that a business tax to pay for the stadium would cost them too much.

Larger businesses were among the strongest backers of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's plan to build a ballpark on the Anacostia River, funded by, among other sources, a tax on businesses in the District. After a month of uncertainty and debate, many business leaders said yesterday they were happy with the preliminary vote approving a stadium deal. A final vote is scheduled Dec. 14.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp presented amendments to legislation to finance a baseball stadium. (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

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Under the legislation, District-based companies with more than $4 million in annual revenue would be required to pay the tax, which would be capped at $48,000 per company for the largest firms.

"I think this is a pretty good piece of legislation," said Robert A. Peck, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a regional chamber of commerce. "We're very pleased, because this is pretty close to what we've been pushing for from the beginning."

The council amended the mayor's plan to include changes preferred by business groups.

To rally political support for the plan, Williams had proposed that in addition to building a ballpark, he would provide $45 million for libraries to be funded by a portion of the tax on large businesses.

Under an amendment sponsored by council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), the libraries would not get that money. Library advocates were disappointed at the turn of events, but it suited business groups just fine.

"We certainly support improving the libraries and improving public schools and other items, but we always felt that having the gross receipts tax as the vehicle to do that was ill-advised," said John W. Hill Jr., chief executive of the Federal City Council, a civic group whose members are mostly senior business executives.

The council also passed an amendment that calls for the District's chief financial officer to examine in the coming months whether private financing might be arranged to lower the tax burden on D.C. businesses. Some business leaders were initially hostile when Cropp proposed private financing last month with a specific development group in mind, but said they support the amendment as long as any proposals are examined carefully.

"We think it's a terrific idea," said Barbara C. Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. "This gives us time to pursue private financing and see if it could work."

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