By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said yesterday that she will use procedural rules to block significant alterations to a baseball stadium financing package when the council votes on three technical amendments.
The amendments, which are tax-related, are necessary because Wall Street bond raters have said they will not grant the District investment-grade ratings on stadium construction bonds until the changes are made, city financial officials said last week.
Cropp (D), who was a leading critic of the public investment last fall, said the city must honor its agreement unless costs rise too high at the proposed waterfront location. Her strategy on the amendments is intended to limit the council's ability to derail the stadium. Council members are not permitted to make substantial changes to technical amendments, which are used to correct relatively minor mistakes in wording.
City officials remain concerned about the council's potential to hold up the stadium project. Stadium opponents -- including David A. Catania (I-At Large), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) -- have said they might attempt to reopen the financing package in an effort to reduce public investment in the $535 million stadium project. The financing package was approved 7 to 6 in December.
That effort could include trying to get Major League Baseball to contribute more money or even moving the ballpark from the proposed location to a less costly site near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.
But others who voted against the project last year, such as Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), said recently that they probably would vote to approve the amendments because the city has agreed to a stadium contract.
"It's important for the District of Columbia to stay on the course it has been on for the last year," Patterson said. "The District is at some risk of not being taken seriously as a government if we renege on the deal we have. That said, we negotiated a lousy deal."
Cropp expressed confidence that the council would approve the amended stadium package. "I have faith in a sensible council," Cropp said.
Cropp said she will introduce the amendments Nov. 1 as part of a package of technical amendments to various council bills. Under council rules, she would need two more legislative meetings before the council votes -- but only one, Dec. 6, is scheduled this year. Cropp could choose to hold an additional meeting this year, as she did last December when the council was deadlocked on the stadium package.
The council is facing a tight timetable to get a stadium built for the Washington Nationals along the Anacostia River. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi needs to have the amendments approved by early December in order to get bonds issued on Wall Street by Dec. 31.
Further complicating the stadium financing, however, is that the council appears divided over a pending deal with Deutsche Bank that would fund about half of the project. Last week, members approved a resolution asking Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to bring the plan to them for review.
Under terms of the agreement, the bank would provide $246 million in exchange for the revenue streams from stadium taxes and the Nationals' annual rent payment.
Cropp and Gandhi endorsed the Deutsche Bank plan this summer, saying it would reduce a gross receipts tax on city businesses from $14 million a year to $8 million. But others, led by Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), have challenged that assessment.
Orange, who is running against Cropp and Fenty for the Democratic mayoral nomination next year, assailed the plan again yesterday in a letter to Williams, Cropp and Gandhi that is critical of Deutsche Bank.
Wall Street bond raters also have expressed some unease over the Deutsche Bank plan. They have not agreed to allow the city to reduce the gross receipts tax to $8 million. Instead, the bond raters have asked the city to collect $14 million a year and refund any excess. Cropp said she will propose legislation soon that calls for such a rebate.