Two sharply divided D.C. Council committees approved legislation to build a baseball stadium with public funds yesterday, setting up a vote by the full 13-member council next week.
During separate meetings that included roughly three hours of heated debate, the Committee on Finance and Revenue and the Committee on Economic Development each approved the bill by a vote of 3 to 2. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) serves on both committees and for the first time indicated his support for the legislation.
At one point, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance committee, used an expletive while discussing one of the 20 amendments offered by David A. Catania (I-At Large), who opposes the measure.
More than two dozen amendments were offered by council members, but only two minor ones were adopted.
The legislation would finance construction of a stadium in Southeast Washington along the Anacostia River, at an estimated cost of $440 million to $530 million. The project would be funded through a combination of a gross-receipts tax on the city's biggest businesses, a tax on concessions and an annual rent payment by the team. Major League Baseball has agreed to move the Montreal Expos to Washington in the spring.
The bill includes a community investment fund that city officials say could provide $450 million for schools, libraries and recreation centers, although some council members and activists have said the plan is vague.
"This is a good bill that enables the stadium to get built," Evans said.
Evans, Chavous and Harold Brazil (D-At Large) voted in favor of the stadium bill during the finance committee's meeting; Catania and Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) voted against it.
At the economic development committee meeting, Evans, Brazil and Chavous again voted in support; Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) voted against the bill.
Evans used the obscenity while speaking on a microphone during a heated argument with Catania. He then apologized to the crowd of about 80 business leaders and residents.
Catania said he offered his amendments to "memorialize" promises that the city had made to residents and businesses to win support for the stadium. For example, he wanted to ensure stadium workers a living wage with health benefits and guarantee that at least 50 percent of the apprentice jobs during stadium construction go to city residents.
City officials are "making promises to the community with no intention of keeping them," Catania said. He vowed to offer his amendments again next week.
Several council members said they would be open to some of the ideas but need more information before making a decision.
The gross-receipts tax and the community investment package could undergo changes when the full council votes Tuesday.
Under the legislation, companies with annual revenue of at least $4 million would have to pay the gross-receipts tax, with larger companies paying progressively more. Officials said the tax is expected to bring in $26 million annually, of which $24 million would be used to pay debt service on the stadium bonds.
The city would use $2 million a year to help set up the community investment fund. After the stadium is completed, about 2008, the fund would receive up to $450 million from bonds to be financed by establishing a "tax-increment financing district" around the stadium. A portion of taxes from businesses in the financing district would be dedicated to paying debt service on the bonds.
Some business leaders object to the use of gross-receipts tax money for the community investment fund. Any extra money from the tax should be used to pay off the stadium bonds early, they said.
The stadium financing legislation "was presented last month to the city's business leaders as a dedicated tax specific to the construction of a new ballpark," said Len Foxwell, director of government relations for the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "We feel very strongly that the mayor and the council should abide by the terms of that commitment."
Gregory McCarthy, legislative affairs chief for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said the city will try to reach a consensus with the business community by Tuesday.
"We need to tell the business community that the whole thing, over 30 years, will gain a lot more broad-based support if we have the community benefits along with the stadium," McCarthy said.
Martin Trimble, an organizer for the Washington Interfaith Network, said his group is concerned that the community investment package is not sufficiently structured to produce enough revenue.
"We need a dedicated stream of money," he said. "We're prepared to make a major issue of it if we have to."