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Public Financing Opposed, Poll Finds

By Richard Morin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; Page A01

More than two-thirds of District residents oppose using public funds to build a baseball stadium in the city, and an even larger majority fears that average taxpayers would end up paying for the project under Mayor Anthony A. Williams's financing plan, according to a Washington Post survey of area residents.

Throughout the city, opposition to a publicly financed baseball stadium is both broad and deep. Sixty-nine percent of District residents said city funds should not be spent on a new baseball stadium, and half of those interviewed said they are strongly opposed to public financing.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp wants to build a new stadium near RFK Stadium. She says her plan would cost about 20 percent less than the mayor's proposal. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Most residents of the District and nearby suburbs agree that a Major League Baseball team in Washington would benefit the city and the region. And many Baltimore Orioles fans said they expected to attend games in the District next year -- and proportionally fewer Orioles games.

But although the plan by Williams (D) calls for the stadium to be financed mostly through a tax on major D.C. businesses, three out of four city residents worry that District taxpayers eventually would foot the bill, siphoning city dollars from more urgent priorities.

"The money should be used for something else: schools, street repairs, neighborhood repairs, homelessness," said Barbra Douglas, 22, of Southeast Washington, who was recently laid off from her job as an aide in a foster care program. "Why should we spend this money on a stadium when the schools are going under? I have a 6-year-old who's getting beat up in elementary school. What are they doing for children like him?"

On Friday, D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) proposed her own stadium plan that also calls for public financing. Cropp recommended building the stadium at a different site and said her plan would cost about 20 percent less than the mayor's proposal. The Post's survey was conducted Wednesday through Sunday, and results of interviews done before and after Cropp's announcement did not differ significantly.

Most District residents criticized the agreement by Williams and Major League Baseball owners that would temporarily move the Montreal Expos to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium next year and construct a new publicly financed stadium that the District's chief financial officer estimated could cost more than $500 million.

Six in 10 city residents said it was "a bad deal," while one in four thought the agreement was good for the city, with black residents slightly more critical than whites. Some residents said Williams was too eager to bring baseball back to the District -- and worried that baseball owners used his enthusiasm to win concessions that benefited them at the expense of the city.

Williams "just let everybody know that we had to have baseball," said Ceasar Short, 57, a bus driver who lives in Northeast. "It was a bad deal. He wanted baseball too much. They knew this guy, he was a pushover when it came to baseball."

Short also questioned why the city would commit to spending so much money for a baseball stadium when it has so many greater needs. "They want people to pay for a baseball stadium when they don't even have a decent hospital to go to," he said. "We need to do first things first: health care, education and policing. This will take money from things we need more than a baseball stadium."

But other residents disagreed. "The stadium is an investment," said James Ford, 82, who is retired and living in Northwest. "It will produce revenue and pay off in the long run." Ford said he has no objections to a publicly financed ballpark. "It will not be built any other way," he said.

Ford also approved of the deal brokered by Williams. "I think he did the best he could. We were lucky to get the team -- if we really get it."

Williams has said repeatedly that a new stadium would not be a financial burden on District residents. Under the mayor's plan, bonds issued to build the stadium would be repaid through a gross receipts tax on the city's largest businesses, a tax on tickets and in-stadium merchandise, and rent from team owners.

Asked yesterday about the survey results, mayoral spokesman Chris Bender reiterated that no money from any existing revenue source will be spent on the project.

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