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Baseball in D.C., play by play

Two stories in the Post this morning suggest an announcement that the Expos will play in D.C. next spring may be imminent.

Stadium location and financing details are discussed here. Although $440 million is a large subsidy to a handful of very rich people (the other 29 clubs own and operate the Expos through MLB), the public finance component might possibly make sense:

The proposed new District stadium near the Anacostia River would be part of a $440 million package that would include $13 million for renovations of RFK. ...

The city would finance the proposed stadium with 30-year bonds, according to the plan outlined to council members yesterday. The annual debt service would be composed of $21 million to $24 million from a gross receipts tax on District businesses, $5.5 million in rent from the team's owners and $11 million to $14 million from in-stadium taxes on tickets, concessions and merchandise. City officials said the new tax would be imposed on businesses with gross receipts of $3 million or more annually -- or about 11 percent of businesses in the District.

$440 million amortizes to about $23 million at 3% interest. Hence the gross receipts tax, assuming the numbers are credible, would cover the initial outlay. The taxes are narrowly targeted on large businesses, where there is apparently significant support for the project. If that's not the case, we'll soon hear from them.

Rent plus ticket taxes - about $18m per year - are payments derived mostly from the team, although the ticket tax itself is merely a tax dodge. (To the consumer, a $30 ticket composed of a $5 tax and $25 at face value is the same as a $30 ticket with no tax, but taxable income is reduced in the prior arrangement). Presumably, these payments will go towards operating expenses of the facility.

Before signing off, one would have to look at the financing plan itself to assess its credibility and to confirm that the conjectures above are in the ballpark. That aside, who can complain - other than Orioles owner Peter Angelos - if large businesses in the District are willing to pay for the Senators' stadium on these terms?

The second piece is by Thomas Boswell, who writes:

[T]he Expos are so close to coming to the District right now that, if you were Charlie Brown, you'd be absolutely, positively certain that, this time, you were going to kick that miserable football before Lucy could pull it away.

It had never occurred to me before that Bud Selig had so much in common with Lucy. Look out, Charlie! Humor aside, Boswell's opinion is always worth checking out.