December 21, 2004 [LINK]

Stadium Deal Approved!

After two critical amendments were added by Chairman Linda Cropp, the D.C. Council just voted 7-6 in favor of the revised stadium funding bill. The first amendment

calls for the city and Major League Baseball to share the cost for insurance, which would limit the city's liability on cost overruns or completion delays.

It also waives compensatory damages for the first year if the stadium is finished late. Instead, the Washington Nationals would not have to pay rent for RFK Stadium if the new ballpark is not ready for the 2008 season.

The second amendment, approved 10-3, deletes the sunset provision that cancels the deal if there is no private financing. [SOURCE: WTOP News]

Since MLB President Bob DuPuy was involved in telephone negotiations last night, these provisions presumably meet with MLB approval. Resumed sales of Nationals tickets and merchandise should begin right away. There are a couple of stipulations, such as certification of the proposed private financing schemes, and some unforeseeable $nag$ may yet emerge, but we can now call the Ex-Expos / Nationals move to D.C. a virtual certainty: 98 percent. (Hence the image of RFK Stadium in the baseball page banner is now clear once again.) PLAY BALL!

A poll by the Washington Post indicated that most D.C. residents favored Mrs. Cropp's insistence on private funding for the new stadium, even if it means losing the team altogether. It's hard to gauge the meaning or intensity of such sentiments, however. In any case, people would do well to read Steven Pearlstein's column in the Post Business section today, in which he laments the "screwball logic" used by many in this debate. As he explained,

Council Chairman Linda Cropp and other critics often confuse "financing" with "pay for."

Should we care who finances the stadium? Well, if our interest is in holding down the total cost of the project, it's pretty clear we should be pushing for as much public financing as possible. The reason is simple: Cities can borrow money more cheaply.

He concludes by admitting some unease over the bargain (which I share), but makes it clear that

[U]ntil Congress repeals baseball's antitrust exemption, or until all major cities are willing to sign a pact that none of them will buy into baseball's Ponzi scheme, our choices are either to play by the rules laid down by Major League Baseball or not play at all. Another round of "tough negotiating" won't change that basic reality.

Or, as Don Rumsfeld might put it, you go into negotiations with the Major League you have, not the one you wish you had.

That is an appropriately realistic assessment. Predictably, in contrast, the folks at Field of Schemes complained,

In short, everybody blinked, resulting in a deal that dissident councilmember Adrian Fenty accurately summed up as "materially the exact same thing the mayor sent over. It's a publicly financed stadium with less risk, but still a publicly financed stadium."

Well, of course. Was there any other plausible outcome, besides no stadium at all? They should at least credit Mrs. Cropp for her daring (if not duplicitous) last-minute maneuver that -- she claims -- will end up saving the city $193 million or more. I suppose that much money is worth causing a few thousand cases of heartburn, plus a heart attack or two. As for Fenty, his opposition is starting to seem more like politically motivated deadset rejection than principled reason.

Details on how Mayor Williams and Chairman Cropp reached the compromise last night are in the Washington Post. Mrs. Cropp seems to have come out slightly on top in this monumental showdown, though perhaps not quite to the extent Tony Kornheiser suggested yesterday. This is not the time to pick winners and losers, however. Let's make sure this stadium project serves its proper purpose of restoring a sense of community in our nation's capital, bridging the gap between the city and its wealthy suburbs.