The late-night backroom deal-making which resulted in a 9-4 emergency vote in favor of the Major League Baseball stadium lease is an affront to the taxpaying residents of the District of Columbia.
Not only did the DC Council subordinate the life necessities of District residents to Major League Baseball, they also approved the stadium at all cost. Despite initial reports of a “cap” on city spending of $610.8 million, a major loophole renders this so-called cap meaningless.
The legislation requires that, in the event of cost overruns, unidentified private and federal sources be tapped. Should nothing come of these unspecified sources, the DC taxpayers would again be responsible for costs above and beyond the $610.8 million, which the project will far surpass without the turning of a single shovel of dirt. The legislation passed by the DC Council fails even to require Major League Baseball to be responsible for cost overruns.
The request for more money from District taxpayers is inevitable as spending pressures mount and costs continue to escalate out of control. If construction begins, Mayor Williams, the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission, the team owners and others will come back to the DC Council with hat in hand, demanding funding beyond the $610.8 million. With the project underway and no committed sources for funding these further cost overruns, taxpayers would be forced to pay the open-ended costs.
Perhaps most reprehensible, were the votes of Kwame Brown, Vincent Gray and Marion Barry. In autumn 2004, District voters ended the representation on the DC Council of all three incumbent members up for re-election who supported spending tax dollars on a stadium (at that time, $440 million), and replaced them with three new members who campaigned against it. The three who were elected on the strength of their then-principled stances — Brown, Gray and Barry — sold-out the voters who put them in office by voting in favor of the stadium lease after more than three hours of closed-door deal-making “recesses” in the middle of the public Council session.
For these councilmembers and the others responsible for allowing Major League Baseball to run roughshod over the District’s government and residents — Schwartz, Patterson, Cropp, Evans, Orange and Ambrose — one prediction is certain. There is no putting this Major League Baseball power-grab behind them. It will return again and again, and they will be held accountable.
While the majority were fantasizing about their luxury box seats at future Nationals games, the few councilmembers who refused to stick citizens with the bill for a stadium — Catania. Fenty, Graham and Mendelson — have done a great service under tremendous pressure from developers, lobbyists and compliant politicians by standing-up and representing the interests of the citizens of the District of Columbia.
To be sure, this boondoggle is not over. Many more legal and financial problems will emerge, and the stadium deal will deservedly collapse under its own bloated weight. To those on Wall Street who are contemplating issuing the bonds, the ooze and bile from this deal will flow strong in the months to come. This fight is not over. It is still unlikely the stadium will be built unless Major League Baseball’s freeloading “capitalists” put private investment funds into this entertainment project.