In an issue driven by South Florida’s history with professional sports owners, the House has started moving forward with a plan to reduce the potential of tax dollars being used to build sports facilities.
The House Workforce Development & Tourism Subcommittee on Thursday backed a measure (HB 791) that would go further than a similar Senate proposal (SB 414), which would repeal an unused pool of sales-tax dollars intended for building and improving professional sports stadiums.
The House proposal, filed by Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, also would prohibit the use of revenues from tourist-development taxes or convention-development taxes to finance or construct facilities that would be used by sports franchises.
The bill also would remove authority for local governments to spend half-cent sales tax revenues on motorsports entertainment complexes.
To bolster his case, Avila pointed to local spending on Marlins Stadium in Miami and the Legislature’s 2013 rejection of a $350 million funding request by the Miami Dolphins.
“I need not tell you Miami-Dade has probably the worst history when it comes to dealing with sports franchises,” Avila said. “Actually, the worst, probably, sports franchise deal was done in Miami, and that was with the Marlins.”
Opposition to stadium funding has steadily grown in the Legislature since a 2009 deal by Miami-Dade County to borrow about $400 million through bonds for Marlins Stadium. The deal, according to projections, may cost more than $2.6 billion when the final payment is due in 2048.
The deal has been further criticized when owner Jeffrey Loria sold the team for $1.2 billion in 2017. Loria had acquired the team for $158.5 million in 2002, when the club played its home games in what is now Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
“We often forget that these sports franchises are a business,” Avila said.
Avila also, without saying his name, indicated real estate tycoon Stephen Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, has changed his position about government funding since self-financing $500 million in upgrades to Hard Rock Stadium after being rebuffed by the Legislature.
Ross, who in 2013 argued the state’s rejection would hurt South Florida’s chance of landing a Super Bowl, in 2017, was the lone owner to vote against the planned move of the Oakland Raiders from California to Las Vegas.
“My position today was that we as owners and as a league owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted,” Ross said in a statement after the owners’ vote.
Nevada put up $750 million toward the move by the Raiders.
Hard Rock Stadium is set to host the 2020 Super Bowl.
The House and Senate proposals seek to repeal a controversial 2014 program that was pushed by former Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, after the Dolphins funding request failed. The program lays out steps for stadium money to become available.
The stadium funding program makes available $13 million a year for stadium work. But amid House opposition, the money has gone unused. No applications were submitted during the annual filing window at the end of 2018.
Along with facilities involving the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball League, Major and Minor League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the program is open to promoters or hosts of events administered by the Breeders’ Cup Limited and NASCAR.
Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.