D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has succinctly laid out the financial risks of Mayor Williams’ legislative proposal to finance a new baseball park. Focusing on expenditures as well as potential revenues, Mr. Gandhi told the D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Committee on Thursday that, while D.C. taxpayers would pay nearly 75 percent of the costs of a new stadium, “[t]he new team would receive all revenue generated by the publicly owned ballpark.” Mr. Gandhi also said “Major League Baseball is in a very powerful position here … and we have much less opportunity to protect our financial interest than a city that already has a baseball team.”
The CFO’s objective opinion was the second rendered this week on Mr. Williams’ costly proposition to lure baseball to Washington. Earlier this week, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (www.dcfpi.org) released a report that drew the same conclusions as Mr. Gandhi: The mayor’s plan means Major League Baseball, not D.C. taxpayers, would be the primary beneficiaries of a publicly financed stadium. Taken together, their numbers prove that the council need not hold its nose and approve the Williams plan simply because baseball is a great D.C. pastime.
In order to sweeten the city’s chances of winning a ballclub, the Williams administration has proposed financing $339 million of a proposed $436 million stadium project. To foot that bill, the mayor wants to create new taxes, raise taxes, create a revenue fund to pay for debt service and spend $15 million to renovate RFK Stadium until a new ballpark is built.
But, as Mr. Gandhi pointed out, the mayor’s plan leaves far too many unanswered questions. Since no property taxes will be levied against the new stadium, what are the terms of the lease agreement? Who will get the revenue from parking, naming rights, club seats and suites, concessions and other guaranteed moneymakers? Who will be responsible for maintenance of a new stadium? What will happen to RFK? Does the city have the capacity for increased public safety if a new stadium were built?
We have said on many occasions that adding a major league team to Washington’s list of favorite pastimes would indeed be wonderful. We do not, however, support public financing to build sports venues. We are not alone. “There is great support locally for baseball and not great support for public financing for baseball. Therein lies the dilemma,” said Finance and Revenue Chairman Jack Evans. Committee member David Catania said the mayor is trying to establish his legacy at taxpayer expense: “He will not be here when the bill comes due. Baseball would be great, but I do not want us to give away the store.”
Whatever the mayor’s motives for proposing to give away the store, we again urge the council to look at the dollars and sense of the stadium proposal, because one thing is certain: Those numbers from Mr. Gandhi and DCFPI do not lie.