Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is working to bring major league baseball to the District. After more than 30 years without a hometown team, we say it's about time. But the mayor also says he would use taxpayer funds to cover the cost of a new stadium with a price tag of as much as $383 million. That we cannot support.
Washington is a prime location for a major league baseball team. Our metro area and our media market are the largest in the nation without a team; our area also has one of the nation's highest average incomes. A baseball team located here would attract fans and succeed financially. Every indication from the league is that Washington is its top contender for becoming the new home of the Montreal Expos.
That puts the District in a strong bargaining position, a position that should allow it to compete for a team without offering substantial stadium subsidies. Unfortunately, the mayor is moving in the other direction. Last year, he proposed spending $275 million toward stadium costs. This year, he raised that offer by more than $100 million.
The mayor proposes to finance a stadium bond with a new tax on businesses that would total as much as $20 million annually and by using sales taxes generated at the new stadium. He argues that this plan will not affect funding for other D.C. services. Yet clearly the District would be better off financially if a new stadium were built by the team's owners or if the District's contribution were limited to infrastructure development around the stadium site, as was done for the MCI Center.
The D.C. Council has worked diligently in recent years to avoid tax increases. Where possible, the council has tried to lower tax rates. We therefore are not inclined to raise taxes to support construction of a baseball stadium. We would oppose raising taxes on D.C. businesses for this purpose, even if some business leaders support such a tax.
Bringing a major league baseball team back to Washington would be great for the District, but not if the price is a huge public subsidy. It's far more important for D.C. residents and for the future of the District to focus on issues such as schools, health care, public safety, employment, affordable housing, opportunities for youth, neighborhood development, libraries and environmental protection. These are the priorities raised by residents at community meetings and citizens' summits sponsored by the mayor. For this reason, we cannot support a proposal to finance a baseball stadium entirely, or even substantially, with public funds.
Williams has suggested to league officials that he can get the D.C. Council to adopt a stadium finance package "in a snap." We disagree.
This is a serious issue for D.C. residents and deserves a thorough, democratic discussion. Public hearings have not been held for more than a year. The council would ensure that public input is solicited on a number of issues -- stadium financing, site selection and revenue from naming rights, among others -- before moving ahead. That way we can make informed decisions that reflect the interests of D.C. residents and that give the District the best possible deal. That is the right way to bring baseball to the nation's capital.
-- Adrian Fenty
-- David Catania
are members of the D.C. Council. Fenty, a Democrat, represents Ward 4; Catania is a Republican at-large.