Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The D.C. Council gave final approval Tuesday night to a plan that mandates at least 50 percent of the costs to build a new baseball stadium be private money. The change, ushered through by Council Chairman Linda Cropp, bewildered some D.C. officials and left others crying foul. While we wanted the chair to be far less generous with public funds, we commend her and six of her colleagues, who stiffened their spines against Mayor Tony Williams and Major League Baseball (MLB). The altered plan does not discourage baseball from returning to the nation’s capital. It does, however, level the field of play and force the mayor to move along the legislative path outlined by lawmakers.

Mr. Williams yesterday painted the prospective cup of baseball’s return as half-empty, when the cup is half-full. The gloomy prospects are based on public-financing aspects of Article V of the agreement signed in September with MLB. Article V reads in part: “The District Government shall issue and sell taxable and tax-exempt Bonds … that will fully fund the Baseball Stadium Budget.”

The agreement does not encourage the city to seek private financing, nor does it preclude the city from public-private financing. In fact, Mrs. Cropp and the city’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, have been exchanging communications on securing private financing for the new stadium, the council has held briefings on private financing and the city has received more than 20 offers of private financing since the D.C.-MLB agreement was signed.

The primary obstacles to progress are apparent: Mr. Williams, and other D.C. signatories and supporters who want baseball at any cost. Fortunately, seven council members stood firm on behalf of the taxpayers.

The next move is up to the mayor’s team, since not one offer of private financing has been certified by CFO Gandhi. As City Administrator Robert Bobb said Tuesday, “What we’re going to have to do is sit down with the CFO and establish process to work through these proposals in an expedited fashion.”

In other words, the mayor’s team must now back track and do what should have be done months ago. It’s not too late, but neither time nor money is on their side.

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