Mayor Anthony A. Williams's $339 million financing plan for a ballpark has run into serious opposition with the D.C. Council and Congress, as lawmakers have balked at his proposals to impose new taxes on businesses and the salaries of baseball players.
At a time when administration officials had hoped to be wrapping up work on the package to bring baseball back to Washington, they instead are preparing for revisions and trying to cobble together enough votes for a preliminary endorsement from the council before it adjourns for the summer.
David A. Catania (R-At Large), shown here with fellow D.C. Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), says the council won't raise taxes to finance a baseball stadium.
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
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Major League Baseball, meanwhile, says it still hopes to select a new home for the Montreal Expos during the All-Star break in July. But the league also is in negotiations to have the team play dozens of games in Puerto Rico, an alternative that would raise cash for the team and put off permanent relocation until 2005 or beyond.
Council members said that the mayor's package of tax increases and major new borrowing probably needs retooling to survive even its first test, before the council's Finance and Revenue Committee this month. Several suggested that the mayor abandon a planned new tax on businesses in favor of an alternative source of revenue while shrinking the overall price tag, which has nearly doubled since Williams (D) began aggressively courting baseball.
"There is no way the Committee on Finance and Revenue is going to pass a tax increase for a baseball stadium," said council member David A. Catania (R-At Large), a committee member. "I very much want baseball to come. . . . I also want to be wise and appropriate stewards of the public's money."
Other council members remained undecided. Yet they agreed that the mayor's plan has lost political momentum since March, when D.C. officials and delegations from Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., made presentations to the league's relocation committee.
Several council members also have endorsed a plan, pushed by the Washington Interfaith Network, that seeks to devote more than $100 million to community investment before putting any money into a baseball stadium.
"When it comes to choosing between baseball and neighborhoods, we want neighborhoods first," said the Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds, the group's co-chairman.
Williams has sought to revive his package by intensifying his lobbying in recent days, and he is to appear with business officials and former members of the old Washington Senators baseball team tomorrow at a downtown block party to generate support for his plan.
Administration officials still hope to land the Expos next year and say the objections from council members can be overcome.
"We can work on resolving the individual concerns that people have," said Stephen M. Green, an economic development official. "There's a lot of different ways of accomplishing things."
Northern Virginia officials also express hope that relocation remains viable for next year. They announced a $285 million stadium financing plan in March and have had public meetings on their five potential ballpark sites: three in Arlington County, one in Springfield and one near Dulles International Airport.
"We understand that [Major League Baseball is] moving toward a mid-July timetable," said Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. "We get the feeling they're very serious."
Others are not as sure. The league's relocation committee has shown few signs of progress. There have been infrequent meetings and no site visits since March. Many Washington area baseball boosters privately regard relocation as more likely for 2005.