Bill to help Miami Dolphins survives a series of blitzes intended to make it more difficult for the team to get tax breaks

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A bill to help the Miami Dolphins upgrade their home survived a series of blitzes intended to make it more difficult for the team to get tax breaks to help with $450 million in proposed renovations for the privately-owned Sun Life Stadium, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

The House Finance and Tax Subcommittee, in a 12-4 vote on Friday, backed new sales tax rebate and hotel bed tax requirements (HB 165) for stadium upgrades that are directed at the state’s oldest pro team.

Members did support conditions endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott that at least half of the renovation costs come from private sources and for local voters to approve the deal. 

Backers of the plan were dismayed to learn this week that it’s not very popular with Miami voters, according to a recent poll, but they also said they could find an upside.

“Most of the opposition has come from a couple members in Miami-Dade County, more from the south. For us in the northwest Dade area, I think we have more support when it comes to the people of our community,” said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, the sponsor of the bill.

Some of the opposition comes from reaction to the way the Miami Marlins got their new ballpark. Miami-Dade County is footing the bill for most of the ballpark and its parking facility in part by having borrowed $400 million through bonds sold on Wall Street that are projected to have cost more than $1.2 billion when the final payment is due in 2048.

“Our job is cut out to explain to the residents of Miami-Dade County what it is this one penny bed tax does and how it differs from the Marlins, how much (Dolphins owner) Stephen Ross is going to put in to the deal compared to what the Marlins put into their deal,” said Gonzalez, R-Hialeah. 

Members of the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee also rejected amendments that would have prohibited a local special election to be quickly held on increasing the local hotel bed tax by a penny; required voters in neighboring counties to also approve any tax breaks; and required Ross – or any other professional team owner receiving sales tax rebates – to return to the state any increased value on the stadium accrued through the renovation work if the team is quickly sold.

“He has every right to sell, but if we through public taxpayer money have increased that value, he should not be able to make money off the so called economic development,” said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who sponsored several of the amendments.

Bileca noted there is nothing holding back Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria from selling his club and pocketing the increased value generated by the year-old $634 million Marlins Park that was so heavily backed by taxpayer money.

Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said the way to support the team is to buy tickets to a game and wear a Dolphins jersey, but “not to give a public subsidy.”

Supporters of the bill are pushing for a spring special election to be timed ahead of the local bidding for Super Bowl 50 in 2016.

“This is something the people should decide, and I don’t believe that just because there may be a small turnout that we’ll get a bad answer,” said Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach.

The Miami Herald on Thursday reported a poll by Florida International University pollster Dario Moreno indicated nearly 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters were opposed to the tax-break plan. Norman Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles who unsuccessfully sued to halt the Marlins’ deal, called the Dolphins bill “corporate welfare.”

The Dolphins aren’t the only ones with an interest in the Legislature this year. There are efforts for tax breaks or subsidies for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Major League Soccer expansion clubs and the Daytona International Speedway all under consideration. 

Scott — who would have final say on any of the bills before legislators – said Thursday he wants local voters to approve the deal, the team’s owner to pay for more than half of the construction or renovations, for the team to remain at the complex during the life of the rebate, and for a study to show that economic forecasts indicate the investment will pay off for taxpayers.

On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax included the referendum into the Dolphins bill, along with a provision to eliminate a tax incentive that international banks can receive for locating facilities in Florida.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.