Mayor Anthony A. Williams delivered a revised baseball stadium bill to the D.C. Council yesterday that alters the way businesses would be taxed for the project and adds a $450 million community investment package.
Mayoral aides said the changes answer the major concerns expressed by business owners and residents, who have reservations about the proposed use of public funds to build a stadium. Two council committees will consider the legislation and vote on it today. If approved by both, the bill will go to the full 13-member council for a first vote Tuesday. A final vote could take place Dec. 7.
In a pact with Major League Baseball, which intends to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington in the spring, Williams (D) agreed to build a stadium in Southeast along the Anacostia River. The project would be financed through a combination of a gross-receipts tax on the city's largest businesses, a tax on ballpark concessions and an annual rent payment from the team.
Under the original legislation, all businesses that took in more than $3 million in gross receipts per year would have paid some taxes for the stadium. In the latest version, Williams raised the minimum to $4 million, exempting a few hundred companies.
He also increased the amount paid by the largest of the city's businesses. Companies that gross $4 million would pay $6,500 for the stadium each year, and the amount escalates to $48,000 for companies that gross $30 million.
In all, the new taxes would bring in about $26 million a year, up from the previous goal of $24 million.
The extra $2 million could have been used to pay off the bonds on the stadium early, as business leaders had hoped. But now the mayor has earmarked that money to develop a community investment package, funded by issuing bonds worth $45 million. That money would be combined with about $30 million already in city coffers to start a community fund for schools, libraries and recreation centers, mayoral aides said.
To continue the community fund, which would start at $75 million, the city would create an area around the new ballpark known as a tax-increment financing district. The boundaries would be South Capitol Street, I Street SE, First Street SE and Potomac Avenue SE. A portion of taxes on all businesses in that area would go toward issuing bonds worth as much as $450 million.
Williams's revised legislation also follows recommendations in a report from Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who last week put the cost of the stadium project at $530 million, up from the city's initial estimate of $440 million. As Gandhi suggested, the mayor lifted a bond cap of $500 million for the stadium and set a new spending limit of $550 million.
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), head of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, one of the two committees involved in the markup, said he was satisfied.
"This is the fairest bill I can come up with," he said. "If you bought into the concept of having a baseball team here, this is the way to finance a stadium, and we're ready to go."
But opponents of building the stadium with public funds remained unbowed. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who is a member of the Committee on Economic Development, which also will mark up the legislation, said he will vote against the bill today.
"If they are still committing to pay for the stadium, my constituents do not support that," he said. "It's a shame when the only way to get the mayor to commit funds to social priorities is for him to strike a deal with Major League Baseball."
Opponents of a District-financed stadium vowed to continue the fight whatever the council vote and got a surprise Election Day boost from independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who ended his campaign by blasting Williams's proposal at a news conference at a library in Southeast Washington.
Nader, who has formed an organization opposed to public subsidies of sports teams, said the District stadium site will face environmental, legal and other challenges and predicted the project's cost would balloon.
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who had expressed serious concerns about the original bill, said yesterday that he was encouraged by the changes, some of which are similar to ideas he has proposed.
Barbara Lang, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses still are concerned about aspects of the gross-receipts tax. Talks among business leaders, the mayor's staff and council members were continuing late yesterday.
"We've been caucusing all day," Lang said. "We will be offering our own plan to the mayor and the council."
Both council committees have five members, and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who is a member of both committees, could be the swing vote. Chavous, who lost his bid for reelection in the September primary, has been largely silent on the stadium plan.
Council aides said that while the markups probably will be more combative than normal, it would be unusual for either committee to block the bill and fail to allow the full council a chance to vote.
The mayor and his aides have expressed confidence that they have lined up the seven council votes needed to approve the stadium plan next week. But the aides were continuing fierce lobbying efforts yesterday.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.