- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

The D.C. Council’s finance and economic development committees approved the city’s ballpark financing bill yesterday in a set of hearings marked by angry exchanges among council members.

The committee votes, each by a 3-2 margin, set the stage for the first of two decisive votes next week by the full council.

The approvals were widely expected, but the preceding markup of the stadium legislation arrived with a battle of wills between Jack Evans, Ward2 Democrat and finance panel chairman, and David Catania, at-large independent.

Catania, a strong opponent of the ballpark bill, sought to make 20 amendments to the stadium bill, ranging widely from the implementation on a spending cap on the city’s investment in the stadium to the use of living wage requirements for stadium workers.

All but one of the amendments sought by Catania failed to pass, with the exception a minor revision of technical language on approvals of stadium design and construction. But tension grew palpably during Catania’s heated criticisms of the ballpark proposal that served as a preamble for every failed amendment, finally boiling over with his comment that “this council will approve anything.”

“I’ve been on this council for 14 years, and I don’t just … vote for anything,” said Evans, using a profane adjective. “I take my job very seriously.”

The verbal clash between the two continued with Evans telling Catania, “If you don’t like [the way the council deliberates], why don’t you quit?”

Catania quickly replied, “What, and leave this to you?”

Evans later apologized for his outburst, but Catania’s excoriation of the stadium bill did not cease.

“This is pork barrel to end all pork barrels,” Catania said. “We’ve made false promises to the public with no intent of keeping them. This is not this council’s finest hour.”

Evans, at-large Democrat Harold Brazil and Ward7 Democrat Kevin Chavous cast the “yes” votes in both committees for the legislation. Voting against the bill in the finance panel were Catania and Ward3 Democrat Kathy Patterson. Voting “no” in the economic development committee were Ward4 Democrat Adrian Fenty and Ward1 Democrat Jim Graham.

The committee approvals marked another stage in a rapid-fire push to develop a workable version of the stadium legislation and approve it by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, city officials produced a second version of the stadium bill with a series of dramatic changes, including a significant reworking of the gross-receipts tax on large District businesses that will fund the large share of the stadium costs. Also in the reworked bill is a community benefit fund, introduced last week by Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

The new fee schedule hikes the top gross-receipts tax bill from $28,200 to $48,000 and already is unpopular in many sectors of the city’s business community. Also facing significant question is a tax-increment financing district around the ballpark that would fund much of the community benefit fund and whether it is large and robust enough to generate meaningful cash for city amenities like libraries and recreation centers.

But with yesterday’s two affirmative committee votes, the full council will have its first reading and vote on the bill Tuesday, with a second vote slated for early December.

The legislation continues to be altered on the fly, with several additional changes to the gross-receipts tax likely between now and Tuesday. To that end, Evans acknowledged several of Catania’s proposed amendments may have merit but said he needed more time to study potential ramifications.

“Absent significant details of this revised bill, absent financial certifications we need from the chief financial officer, we’re completely in the dark on this,” Graham said. “I want this process to slow down. This is not the way to do business.”

The “yes” votes from Chavous encouraged many baseball boosters, who openly wondered whether his support of baseball had waned. Evans, joining conventional wisdom in city political circles, said yesterday he sees seven or eight supporters of the ballpark legislation on the full council, enough to pass the measure.

Evans declined to name any particular supporter or opponent. But the opposition yesterday of Graham, Fenty, Catania and Patterson is consistent with comments made by each last week during a public hearing on the issue. At-large Republican Carol Schwartz also openly criticized the original version of the bill.

The rest of the 13-member council is either openly in favor of the bill or is believed to be leaning in that direction.

Meanwhile, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission yesterday approved the hiring of a four-company consulting team that will aid in the renovation of RFK Stadium and development of the new stadium. The commission is also closing in on a contract with Turner Construction Co. and HNTB Inc. to lead the design and construction work for the projects.

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