D.C.'s Mayor Draws Fire on Stadium Plan

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 2, 2006

A strategy offered by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams to ensure that Major League Baseball will not have to pay for potential cost overruns on a new stadium drew critical and angry reactions from several D.C. Council members yesterday.

The Williams administration told baseball officials this week that $20 million in surplus tax revenue being raised to finance debt on construction bonds can be used to cover overruns if necessary. Williams (D) is trying to persuade baseball to endorse a $611 million stadium spending cap on city funds the council approved last month.

But council members said they did not intend for the tax money to be used as a safeguard against overruns because such a scenario would potentially raise the city's investment in the project above the cap.

"I don't think the intent was for cost overruns," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).

Cropp said she intends to tell the mayor that she does not want the excess tax revenue pledged as an option to cover the overruns.

Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), who cast critical votes for a stadium lease agreement and the spending cap, criticized the mayor's approach.

"If there's one thing I said to the mayor, it's that I didn't want any shenanigans, no side deals like this," Barry said. "If he does this, this stadium is dead again. . . . We wanted a cap that was tight. Everyone was confident, so we went with it. If it's not tight, there will be rebellion."

Williams vehemently defended his position at his weekly news conference yesterday, saying the council's legislation expressly ensures that the tax money raised to pay stadium debt can be used for cost overruns.

"I'm not trying to wink and nod," Williams said. "We're talking about the legislation as stated."

Mayoral aides stressed that they are trying to assure MLB that money is available if necessary but do not expect to have to use the tax money for overruns.

The latest political debate over the stadium comes before the Monday deadline set by the council for baseball to endorse the spending cap. If MLB accepts the cap, stadium construction could begin, and baseball could select an ownership group for the Nationals this month. If MLB rejects the deal, the stadium dispute, which has dragged on for months, could enter binding arbitration.

The sticking point is who will pay for costs above $611 million. MLB is selling the Nationals for about $450 million, a sum predicated largely on a publicly financed stadium, and has made it clear it does not want the team owner to be stuck paying for overruns.

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