- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

As D.C. officials deal with a projected revenue shortfall in excess of $50 million and the need to cut spending by nearly $70 million more before the end of this fiscal year, Mayor Williams is working hard to fashion a tax package that would provide as much as $275 million for a new baseball stadium. This is a bad idea being pursued at a very bad time. It doesn't have to be this way.
During this downtrodden economy, and as the the mayor considers tapping reserve funds, the administration is seriously considering enacting a tax increase on local businesses. The tax booty would then be used to provide a substantial subsidy for a new ballpark. In turn, the publicly subsidized ballpark would generate massive revenue streams for the team's owners.
To repeat our position: We have no objection to the city's providing necessary infrastructure improvements to accommodate a new stadium, as it did with the construction of Abe Pollin's privately financed MCI Center. Tax revenues generated from ballpark merchandise and concessions sales and from baseball-ticket sales taxes, particularly any ticket-tax surcharge, could be appropriately earmarked for repayment of infrastructure improvement bonds. Even additional taxes needed to repay bonds issued strictly for those improvements could be justified.
Clearly, the Williams is fast-approaching the early stages of a very costly bidding war with Portland, Ore., for financially beleaguered Montreal Expos. The game is simple as simple as extortion can be. The owners intend for D.C. officials to compete with Portland officials and any other potential relocation areas by bidding up ballpark subsidies. The more taxpayer funds that officials are able to commit, the more money that extremely wealthy prospective owners will have to pay baseball owners for the Expos franchise. And the more they pay for the franchise, the less money those wealthy investors will have to pay for their ballpark.
With the help of Congress, the District does not have to play this game. The D.C. area is light-years ahead of Portland in all the population and income demographics that make marketers salivate. Moreover, there are numerous financially strapped baseball teams whose owners would be in a good position to build their own ballpark if they were able to relocate their team to the D.C.-area gold mine.
Congress need only pass legislation conforming baseball's antitrust exemption to the exemptions that apply to other professional leagues. Suddenly, baseball owners would be pursuing the nation's capital instead of the reverse.

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