Iappreciate the effort of the D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to bring baseball to Washington, and that they are using that effort as a catalyst to advance other capital needs of the city, particularly those of the public schools and public charter schools. Now what is needed is legislation to create a trust to finance the facilities needs of the city's schools.
The capital infrastructure bill, introduced in the House by D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, should result in some sort of annual payment from the federal government for capital projects in the District. The payment would be best used to secure long-term financing for construction and modernization projects, which is how most local jurisdictions finance infrastructure. But unless the District gets out in front on this issue, it won't be ready when the federal money does come. Therefore, while the District awaits the nod from the feds, it should set up a trial program with its own baseball-driven financing instruments and oversight structure.
Oklahoma City could serve as a blueprint. That city's program to upgrade and build public facilities led to a library, a ballpark, a renovated convention center and a facelift for the state fairgrounds, among other projects. All were funded by a temporary one-cent sales tax. At the same time, Oklahoma City established a trust, funded by sales taxes and bonds, to oversee funding and construction of schools. The District also might want to look at how New York City, New Jersey and Oregon went about developing similar programs.
D.C. schools that have used special financing structures for construction projects include American University, Gonzaga High School and George Washington University, for a total of more than $840 million in special financing since 1998.
Financing school modernization and stadium construction need not be mutually exclusive. But doing both will take the concerted effort of local businesses, the mayor and the council.
-- Jack Koczela
is a co-founder of PROP 100% (Pledge to Rebuild Our Schools 100%), which seeks federal funding
for construction and modernization
of D.C. public schools.