Paul Jacob

Our national pastime has become a national indecency.

Granted, there are things worse than a public indecency: tragedies, atrocities, high crimes. But still, public indecencies irritate and disappoint ? especially when they are cheered.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced his plans to build a 41,000-seat, city-financed baseball stadium at a price tag of $440 million to entice the Montreal Expos to make the nation's capitol their home. And the people cheer.

Well, that's what the newspapers printed, anyway. No one I knew broke out in jubilation. But I'm sure a lot of people are very glad to hear that professional baseball will be back to Washington, after over thirty year in hiatus. Under other circumstances, I'd be cheering now, too.

But, with the current deal, any gain for District sports fans will be offset by the further erosion of a sense of decency in public policy.

Today we hardly bat an eye when a large enterprise like a sports stadium is started not by business people, but by politicians. Or when one of the poorest-run cities in the nation distracts itself from improving its badly provided essential services to engage in what has become a rich-man's luxury. Or when we see captains of industry reduced from creators of wealth to welfare addicts.

The Game Plan

It's not a done deal. Williams and his cronies still have to face a somewhat skeptical D.C. city council. Yet no one seems confident that the purchasing of city council support, by one nefarious manner or another, can be prevented.

As usual, the proponents are carefully preparing the finances to make it look like "somebody else pays." The $440 million cost of the stadium would come from selling bonds. But bonds actually have to be paid back ? in this case, from annual lease charges of $5.5 million to the baseball team's owners, taxes on in-stadium goods, and taxes on the gross receipts of area businesses that make more than $3 million per year.

The lease payments are a sweetheart deal for the baseball team, even far sweeter than the deals other politicians are awarding to other teams on the baseball dole. And surely, the team could pay for its own stadium from the barrels of dough raked in on concessions, not just a small percentage of tax heaped on top.

Yet, the most ridiculous notion is that taxes on Washington's most successful businesses will mean that the average citizen gets free baseball and a free stadium. Why don't we get these big businesses to wipe out world poverty while they're at it?

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.