Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other District leaders are discussing proposals to raise additional money to invest in neighborhoods and schools and allay critics of the mayor's plan to pay for a baseball stadium.
Ideas include raising as much as $20 million a year for neighborhoods, Williams (D) said in an interview yesterday.
"My goal would be to try to generate around $20 million that could then yearly go into a community benefits package," Williams said. "I'm not fixed on what exactly it's got to go to, as long as it goes to things the community thinks are important."
Williams did not elaborate on how the money would be raised, but it would not be done by raising taxes on residents.
Several D.C. Council members, including Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), also said they were interested in finding money to go to such neighborhood projects as funds are raised for a stadium for the Montreal Expos, to be relocated to Washington in the spring.
Opposition has been mounting to the stadium financing plan, in which the city would issue as much as $500 million in revenue bonds and repay them with sales taxes from in-stadium services and merchandise as well as a gross-receipts tax on businesses that take in $3 million or more annually.
Council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and David A. Catania (I-At Large) are among those who have complained that the city should spend any additional tax money on more pressing needs such as schools, health care and social services.
To raise money for neighborhoods and schools, Graham suggested that the city use a percentage of revenue collected beyond the amount needed to pay the debt service on the bond issue -- money that city officials have said probably would be used to pay off the bonds ahead of schedule.
Cropp and other council members met with members of the mayor's staff and economic development team for more than an hour yesterday to discuss the stadium plan.
Cropp said she requested that staff members prepare a report exploring all funding options, including ways to raise additional money for neighborhoods or schools. The report will be public before the council's Oct. 28 hearing on the stadium plan, Cropp said.
Council committees on finance and revenue and economic development intend to mark up the legislation by Nov. 3, and the full 13-member council will take an initial vote Nov. 9, officials said.
"If the city is going to get economic development benefits, what are they?" Cropp said. "We need to be clear and articulate to the public. . . . A lot of us are talking about different things we can do, like set-asides or money directed to certain areas."
Also yesterday, Williams said he has set up a "war room" of officials in the city planning office and his Cabinet to sell the stadium plan. Among those involved is Ira Sockowitz, a former Clinton administration appointee who more recently worked as a consultant and has advised Williams on other trade and economic issues.
Sockowitz, hired last month on a year-long $75,000 contract, will do other projects, too, but has been instrumental in the baseball strategy, officials said.
Sockowitz could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the late 1990s, he came under scrutiny by Congress for allegedly taking classified documents when he left his post at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Chris Bender, spokesman for the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development, said officials have been attending several community meetings across the city each night to explain the stadium plan.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said that "if everyone knew all the facts, they wouldn't be against this."
But Graham suggested that the city could increase the levy paid by the city's biggest businesses -- the current cap is $28,500 -- to free some sales tax revenue from the stadium to pay for city needs.
"If we did this, we could generate more public support" for the stadium financing, Graham said. "We've gone after big business for something that seems to many to be superfluous . . . to a lot of people is like a luxury. We need to go to big business for additional funds for necessities."
Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.