- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

The District’s proposed “jock tax” is facing possible death when Congress reconvenes early next week, putting further pressure on the rest of the city’s $338.7million baseball stadium financing plan.

District officials are seeking to fund about 20 percent of yearly bond costs for a new stadium from an income tax placed specifically on pro baseball players competing in the District. But with the tax already facing heavy opposition from Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, Capitol Hill sources say support is not strong for the proposed measure.

“There are a number of conservatives who see this as nothing other than a tax increase,” said one Hill source. “There is not a small number of [congressmen] who oppose this. And the District’s prior statements that they can fund a stadium without [the jock tax] have hurt their case.”

The jock tax measure, introduced in late March by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, District Democrat, is being heard on Capitol Hill because it requires a federal amendment to the city’s Home Rule Charter. That charter currently prohibits the taxing of all non-resident income.

Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican and head of the House Government Reform Committee that oversees many District affairs, has lent his support to the jock tax, but only after being convinced it was not a back door to a broader, much-opposed commuter tax. Davis spokesman David Marin said Davis still intends to push on the bill. Backers of the District jock tax originally had hoped for passage by the end of this month.

“It is still our hope to bring this legislation to the [House] floor,” Marin said. “It is Congressman Davis’ opinion that Congress does not need to be micro-managing the District’s affairs. But I don’t think it’s a secret there is opposition.”

Steve Green, special assistant in the city department of planning and economic development, says the measure, despite its strict definition, is designed to bring the District into some parity with more than two dozen other states and cities.

“We think it’s a fair thing to do what many places including Virginia, for example, do or are proposing to do — taxing the athletes that play in a stadium funded largely with public dollars,” Green said. “It this an important part of the puzzle? Yes, just like it is in so many other areas. Is it do or die? No. But it is still important. Not having this would put more weight on the other parts of the [financing].”

Meanwhile, the Washington Baseball Club, led by financier Fred Malek, is asking proponents of a District-based team to send letters and make calls to the City Council supporting the Ballpark Revenue Amendment Act of 2003. The proposed act, now before the council, comprises the rest of the financing package, targeting ballpark-related sales and admissions taxes and a tax on the gross revenues of large District-based businesses.

The council’s finance committee will hold its first hearing on the bill June12. Meanwhile, WBC staffers have put a series of pro-stadium talking points on its Web site, www.baseballindc.com, to assist with the sought-after letters and calls. A “city-wide rally” also is in the planning stages.

The effort somewhat mirrors pro-stadium lobbying conducted by members and affiliates of the William Collins-led Virginia Baseball Club in the commonwealth.

“This next month is potentially quite critical to the future of baseball in Washington,” said Winston Lord, WBC executive director. “So our goal is to ensure the support we know exists for this is heard.”

Also in local baseball news, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority held its third scheduled public forum on its proposed stadium plans Wednesday night, presenting it in Arlington for the second time. Like the other two sessions, crowds numbered in the hundreds and emotions ran high. But this time stadium opponents repeatedly disrupted presentations from authority executives and contractors, marking yet another contentious chapter in an already feisty Arlington stadium debate.

Baseball officials are aiming to announce the new home of the MLB-owned Montreal Expos by mid-July. But skepticism about that target date is increasing, and some believe the Expos could return for more games in Puerto Rico next year. The Expos are playing 22 of 81 home games there this season.


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