- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

When D.C. officials finally approved legislation in December for financing a new ballpark, the most debated aspect of the bill was a proviso that the city seek private financing. The deadline for submission of private financing plans is today. We urge the city’s chief financial officer (CFO) to apply nonpartisan vigor during his analyses.

The Ballpark Omnibus Financing and Revenue Act of 2004 requires the city to issue bonds and levy taxes to help fund the costs. CFO Natwar Gandhi is required to review and evaulate proposals that would lower the city’s costs of funding and building a new baseball stadium for the Washington Nationals. The CFO is to conduct a second cost analysis of the new stadium by May 15 — an analysis that will be made long after the CFO’s evaluates on the private-financing deals.

Some of the deals simply won’t measure up to a substantial savings for the city. For example, one proposal not worth pursing involves selling curbside metered-parking rights to a private owner. Another would increase the height limits on buildings. However, such regulations on building heights fall far beyond the prerogatives of City Hall and, in fact, would generate oppostion in post-September 11 Washington.

Our chief concern rests with the independence and the power of the CFO, a post formerly held by Mayor Tony Williams and now in the very capable hands of Mr. Gandhi. Indeed, the duties of the CFO originally were granted by the 104th Congress that also created the control board. Congress granted the CFO considerable independence, so he would not be influenced by the political winds of City Hall. The protracted debate over financing the ballpark pointed up the deep division between what the mayor wanted and what lawmakers and taxpayers did not want — a publicly financed stadium.

Mr. Gandhi gave lawmakers a cursory view of his opinion on private financing. In a Nov. 18 letter to Council Chairman Linda Cropp, for example, he cited examples of why a proposal from BW Realty Advisors could not be certified as a viable financing option. Mr. Gandhi then pointed out “a path to possible cerfitication.”

We expect the mayor to continue pushing his public-financing plan. We also anticipate lawmakers will continue to push their agendas, which seemingly have more to do with the 2006 and 2008 elections than the principle of not using public money to finance the stadium. As for the CFO, he needs to ignore the winds and whims of City Hall. We expect his future certifications on ballpark financing to be in the same vein as his other unquestionable certifications that were based on nonpartisan analyses.

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