- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

Mayor Tony Williams has proposed a stadium financing budget that totals $435.2 million — a low figure he uses to make the package more attractive to the public. Both the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Office of the D.C. Auditor dispute the estimate. CFO Natwar Gandhi put the total at $486.2 million, saying the mayor underestimated money needed for infrastructure, renovating RFK Stadium and other costs associated with relocating the Montreal Expos.

A comparative analysis by Auditor Deborah Nichols says both the mayor and the CFO underestimated costs. She put the total at $583.8 million — and counting. Land acquisition near the site for the new stadium “may be significantly higher that the $65 million that is currently budgeted,” the auditor said in her analysis. Mrs. Nichols also called infrastructure costs “unrealistic” and said “there is a high probability there will be construction cost overruns.”

Delays and cost overruns occur for various reasons, and the auditor cited but three — design changes, land acquisition and weather. Add labor to that short list. The labor agreement being drafted by the mayor’s bring-baseball-to-D.C. panel follows what the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of Metro Washington, or ABC, rightly calls a “blueprint” project labor agreement. In short, the agreement would impose union-only and other restrictions on contractors and laborers. For example, contractors would be forced to recognize “designated” unions, and pay union wages and benefits. The workers, meanwhile, would be forced to join a union. Adhering to such restrictions hurts companies and their workers. Stadiums built following union-only labor agreements lead to cost overruns. A perfect example is situated in California. D.C. City Administrator Robert Bobb, who held the same post in Oakland, and Jane Brunner, an Oakland Council member who also is consulting with the mayor’s panel, should know that the union-only PacBell Park in San Francisco accumulated $70 million in construction overruns because of labor shortages. In Detroit, home to Comerica Field, laborers’ lawsuits charging race and sex discrimination led to $25 million in cost overruns. Maryland, on the other hand, is home to three stadiums — Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium in Baltimore, and the Redskins’ FedEx Field in Landover — that were open to fair and competition and, consequently, were built on time and on budget.

The mayor, it seems, wants to get a D.C. team at all costs. He has said that he wants to ensure D.C. residents are hired and given apprenticeship opportunities, and that he wants to boost participation by minority-owned businesses. But as ABC President Debra Schoonmaker told us yesterday, “a union-only PLA does nothing to advance those goals.” We agree.

The council can remedy this situation today on the dais. The clock is ticking on the mayor, but it’s up to the council to continue sounding the alarm.

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