DC's Baseball Stadium Plan Amounts to Reverse Commuter Tax, Watchdog Group Says

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Building a baseball stadium using taxpayer dollars in Washington, D.C., amounts to a reverse commuter tax, a study by a taxpayer watchdog group has concluded.

D.C. City Council members will vote Tuesday on whether to approve D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams' plan for a publicly subsidized baseball stadium in Anacostia, and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation is warning that council members should remember this year's earlier "commuter tax" court controversy.

A new study by the foundation finds the stadium proposal would worsen taxes in D.C. to fund a project that will mostly serve residents of Maryland and Virginia, because 80 percent of the team's fans would come from those two states.

"The pending deal to lure baseball to the nation's capital, negotiated by DC Mayor Williams, would raise taxes on DC businesses largely to the benefit of residents of surrounding jurisdictions that DC lawmakers claimed their constituents were subsidizing a mere nine months ago," NTUF director of government affairs and author of the study Paul Gessing said in a statement.

"Backers maintain that this stream of outsiders will give a boost to the area surrounding the new stadium, but the lack of economic activity around the existing RFK stadium provides a vivid illustration of the tenuous nature of stadium-induced economic activity," Gessing said.

The $505 million stadium proposal, excluding the $25 million to pay for renovations to RFK stadium, will be the priciest open-air baseball stadium ever, surpassing the costs of Toronto's SkyDome or Houston's Minute Maid Park, both of which have expensive retractable roofs that allow them to be used for other event venues, the study noted.

Also, the nation's capital is offering subsidies higher than those of any other stadium project, amounting to more than the total cost of most stadium ventures built since 2000, the study found. Even one councilmember's proposal, which would reduce costs up to 20 percent by building the new stadium on the RFK site, includes nearly $323 million in taxpayer subsidies, the study noted.

"The question is: what exactly is Washington spending all its money on?" Gessing said. "For the price he is asking DC taxpayers to pay, Mayor Williams is clearly not just planning to build a stadium. Rather, he is offering baseball a gilded palace costing far more than the newest and best stadiums throughout the League."

Gessing said the new taxpayer-funded baseball stadium looks "even more ridiculous" given the city's "glaring fiscal management issues" which already makes it the most hostile tax climate for doing business in the nation.

As a result, he said, the city's unemployment rate has risen to 7.9 percent, which is the nation's highest unemployment rate and over twice Virginia's 3.2 percent rate.

"Clearly the last thing DC businesses need is even higher taxes, which in turn will only be passed along to DC residents in the form of higher prices, lower wages, and fewer new jobs," Gessing concluded. "It is now up to DC's City Council to do their best for DC taxpayers, by exploring alternatives to ensure that baseball pays to play."

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