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Pro Stadium Funding Bill Goes To Governor

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Requests for the state to approve money for professional sports stadiums will have to go through a new ranking process, potentially reducing the lobbying of lawmakers for the cash, under a bill now headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

But the measure (HB 7095) could also speed $2 million a year to Daytona International Speedway and to soccer teams in Miami and Orlando, while shutting out Major League Baseball until its draft requirements for players defecting from Cuba are revamped.

The House voted 89-27 on Friday to approve Senate changes to the overall measure. The bill requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to evaluate economic viability and rank funding proposals before lawmakers are asked to approve sales-tax dollars for multimillion-dollar construction projects and improvements.

“This chamber runs better when there is a process that is not controlled and dictated by the quality or the power of the lobbyist hired to push the stadium subsidy and when it has to go through a budgeting process,” said Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, who was critical of Senate funding proposals in the bill.

The process was drawn up after controversial efforts last year by the Miami Dolphins to land tax money for upgrades at Sun Life Stadium.

“Last year we saw the frustration up to the last minute, with CEOs coming in, running to the speaker’s office, going to the president’s office, trying to do this and do that, and, at the end of the day, get nothing,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. “A lot of municipalities will benefit from this as we try to turn the economy around.”

But Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said the process will only make it easier for communities and teams to get state money.

“It is a subsidy, and that is what it is, this is a process, absolutely, it’s a process that allows the tax break Olympics to begin and kick off in 2015,” Rodriguez said.

The Senate backed the measure, with its changes, in a 35-3 vote Thursday.

Scott hasn’t indicated if he will sign the measure.

The proposal allows money to be available annually for the major sports leagues, along with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League, NASCAR, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, hosts of the Breeders’ Cup horse races and minor-league baseball facilities.

Currently, only Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are eligible for sales-tax dollars for stadium work.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, said the proposal is already having an impact through a requirement that Major League Baseball change how Cuban players are treated if teams want to participate in the funding pool.

“Major League Baseball and the players union are already having discussions on how they will correct that problem,” Diaz said.

Other than for Canadians, Major League Baseball allows foreign nationals to negotiate as free agents with any club. However, a U.S. embargo prohibits Cuban players from negotiating as free agents while still in Cuba and requires that those who defect to America enter the annual amateur draft.

More broadly, the bill allows projects that cost more than $200 million to apply for up to $3 million a year in funding for 30 years. Projects worth between $100 million and $200 million could apply for up to $2 million a year, and those between $30 million and $100 million would be eligible for up to $1 million a year.

Money for the stadium projects would come from an annual pool of $13 million, with $6 million set aside for the Legislative Budget Commission to potentially allocate later this year. That commission is made up by House and Senate members.

The $6 million could help Daytona International Speedway and Major League Soccer expansion-franchise stadium plans in Orlando and Miami, as each could receive up to $2 million a year, for 30 years, for stadium work.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said the funding amounts change the proposal from a process bill to a “giveaway.”

But Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, said the bill creates an “incentive program.”

“You make an investment, you get a return,” Gibbons said. “Our return is better stadiums, more revenue for the state, and the opportunity to get major sporting events that we will miss unless we continue to invest in this kind of business.”

Last year, lobbyists for the Dolphins argued that without state backing for upgrades at Sun Life Stadium, South Florida would be unable to attract large events such as the Super Bowl or international soccer matches.

The House approval drew praise from Daytona International Speedway, which has been seeking money the past two sessions for its ongoing $400 million “Daytona Rising” project that supporters have called a jobs-creator and economic driver.

“If the bill is signed, Daytona Rising will stand as the model for a true private-public partnership with far-reaching advantages for Florida,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said in a release.

This report is by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida.

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