- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

The city is wrangling to come up with a publicly funded ballpark, as only a city that believes in the curative power of higher taxes can.

This is a series of proposals that implores everyone to hold their noses, even those, this space included, who embrace the return of baseball after a 33-year absence.

There is no genuine solution, just bad vs. worse.

Even so, the 11th-hour huffing and puffing of the D.C. Council is entertaining, even by the quirky standards of what all too often passes as the political process in the city.

Baseball has been playing hard to get since the San Diego Padres jilted the nation’s capital in 1974, and harder still as second-tier markets, such as the Tampa/St. Petersburg mistake, joined the fraternity of Major League Baseball.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, as anyone who vaguely has followed his maneuverings knows, put together the only package that would have satisfied the baseball owners, Peter Angelos excluded.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp has come to be the new best friend of the Orioles owner, as she feigns to be a fiscal conservative in an oasis of tax-and-spend madness. It is just not right, this ballpark plan, she says. And, of course, it is not right, starting with the gross-receipts tax on large businesses that somehow absolves residents of the city from paying for the ballpark.

This is sleight-of-hand stuff. Those businesses are not going to swallow their portion of the ballpark tab without making adjustments on whatever it is they sell. Their part of the tax increase is certain to be passed along to consumers. Or, worse, a few of the businesses could just pack up and head to the business-friendly environment of the suburbs.

This is the aspect of the deal that is hard to defend, along with driving out those Southeast property owners whose only offense is working or living in a long-forgotten stretch of the city.

The taxing of baseball consumers is fair enough. This is their dream, after all. A baseball team completes their world. If they are willing to spend $20 on a hot dog, or whatever the price of the cholesterol stick may be, it is their choice. They are not being ordered by law to buy a hot dog, a bag of peanuts and several cups of suds.

The large businesses in the city who meet the gross-receipts tax bar have no such leeway. They have to donate a portion of their largesse to another business that is being granted an unthinkable finance package, ostensibly because of an ill-defined greater good.

That could turn out to be true in the end, if the vision along the Anacostia River comes to be.

Proponents of the ballpark point to the feverish rebirth of Chinatown as proof. The neighborhood’s face-lift has been precipitated by Abe Pollin’s playpen — the MCI Center — followed by the customary chain eateries and the ubiquitous Starbucks, followed by condominiums jutting skyward and upscale retail centers.

It is equally true that many previously neglected neighborhoods in the city are enjoying a stunning rebirth as well, and there is no publicly financed stadium or arena fueling the push, only low interest rates amid an exploding real-estate market.

The D.C. Council approved the mayor’s stadium proposal on Tuesday, by a 6-4 count, and plans to revisit the fractious issue later this month. All the grandstanding, including the nays and abstentions, is not intended to be taken literally. The prospect of payback in the next election is no small part of the posturing, the reflexive political urge to cover your fanny before the first pitch is delivered at RFK Stadium next spring.

The mayor forged an imperfect deal with baseball after the terms were revealed last spring.

The D.C. Council greeted the initial news by saying, “We need a firm commitment from baseball before crunching the numbers.”

Now the D.C. Council members, three of whom are lame ducks, are up against a baseball-imposed deadline, a mayor who is using his political capital to make the deal happen and an ever-escalating price tag.

Ah, baseball.

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