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'Jock Tax,' Puerto Rico May Factor in Relocation

By Mark Asher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 16, 2003; Page D05

Robert A. DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, said the District's plan to use a tax on players to finance the construction of a baseball stadium is a "troublesome issue," the Associated Press reported.

DuPuy's reaction to the "jock tax" proposal, one of three prongs in its financing plan to service $291.9 million of construction bonds for renovations to RFK Stadium and a new ballpark, was the first public comment by a baseball official since union executive director Donald Fehr said last week his union would challenge the plan's constitutionality.

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Also yesterday, baseball released correspondence in which Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, Del. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D), asked Commissioner Bud Selig to "strongly consider" San Juan as a future home for a team. In his three-paragraph response, Selig said he would be "delighted" to consider a proposal from San Juan as a possible suitor for the Montreal Expos.

Baseball has appointed a relocation committee to examine where the Expos will play in the 2004 season. The committee is supposed to make a decision by the All-Star Game, but in recent weeks speculation has grown that the committee will delay a move until at least 2005.

The release of the correspondence comes the day before officials in the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., expect to be notified of follow-up negotiations to their initial bids for the Expos, which were presented eight weeks ago. A delay would allow Puerto Rico to join the bidding since it currently has no ownership group or stadium financing plan.

"It would be necessary for us to gain some sense of a person or group of persons who may wish to acquire this club," Selig said in a May 2 response to Acevedo-Vila's letter, which was dated April 23.

Puerto Rico is playing host to 22 of the Expos' home games this season and could get more next season if the Expos are not relocated.

David M. Carter, a sports consultant based in Southern California and co-author of the recently published book "On the Ball: What You Can Learn about Business from America's Sports Leaders," said the Expos' first 12 games in San Juan may have bolstered MLB's impression of the island's viability.

"But I think it also might speak to the fact that, just like the NFL, MLB is keen on generating leverage for where to place franchises, whether that's expansion or the relocation of teams," Carter said. "So, this might say as much about MLB trying to ensure it gets the best possible deal out of [the Washington area] than its absolute belief in Puerto Rico being a viable long-term market for the sport."

Financier Fred Malek, leader of one of three local investor groups seeking the Expos, was unfazed by the development. "I don't care who they add to the list," he said. "Washington, D.C., is still the best market in the country by far, and everybody knows it."

Jock taxes are common nationally, but states that impose them also routinely tax the income of non-residents. The D.C. home rule charter specifically forbids that, and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is seeking an act of Congress to get approval to tax professional athletes whose teams move to the District after 2003.

District officials have said their financing plan provides enough cushion in case the tax on players is ruled illegal or eliminated.

Gene Orza, the MLB Players Association's No. 2 executive, said the union would not be opposed to permanently locating the Expos in Puerto Rico.

"It's a little bit of a surprise. The general thinking was that, while a contender, [Puerto Rico was] not a top contender," Orza said. "Since the Montreal games were played down there, maybe the reaction to what transpired down there has elevated [Puerto Rico] as a contender, so to speak. I don't have access to information on which [MLB] relied. From a staff level up here, people who have been down there said they put on a good show and the players are pleased with what's happening in Puerto Rico."

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