Stadium Funding Repeal Hung Up In Senate

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A proposal to discard an unused pool of state sales tax dollars that could be used to build and upgrade professional sports stadiums was put in limbo Monday just before it was scheduled to go before a Senate committee.

The Commerce and Tourism Committee took a procedural step that tabled the proposal (SB 236), as sponsor Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, remained in his fourth-floor Senate office when the bill’s number was called.

Lee said he was informed in a “private conversation” prior to the meeting that his proposal wasn’t going to be moved. But Lee wouldn’t call his proposal, which seeks to repeal a controversial 2014 sports development program, dead for the legislative session.

“I know I had the votes to pass it, because I talked to the members ahead of time,” Lee said. “The president approves those agendas. And somewhere between the agenda coming out and today something changed.”

A spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said she was unaware any change had been made regarding Lee’s proposal.

The stadium funding program, which was sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott makes available $13 million a year for stadium work.

Latvala, who serves on the Commerce and Tourism Committee and is the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, declined after Monday’s meeting to discuss what might have been said in behind-the-scenes talks with any other senator.

Even if Lee is unsuccessful in repealing the program, it appears highly unlikely that stadium projects will get state funding this year. House leaders have been vehemently opposed to dipping into the funding pool for projects that make it through a review by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The money, which comes from sales taxes, has been unsuccessfully sought in the past for improvements at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Daytona International Speedway, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami-Dade County and construction of a soccer stadium in Orlando.

Lee noted that the owners of each of those facilities completed the work without the state’s contribution.

“This piece of (2014) legislation was nothing but found money for those organizations,” Lee said.

For the current year, House leaders have already rejected the lone request for state money from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

When Lee filed the legislation, House Speaker Richard Corcoran quickly announced his support for the repeal.

“Florida has the tax environment, the weather, and the fans to support multiple sports franchises without raiding taxpayer pockets,” Corcoran said at the time. “Those who own the game should not be able to take money from those who don’t attend the game.”

Corcoran, who was among 27 House members voting against the 2014 law, oversaw House votes last week to abolish the state’s economic-business recruitment agency Enterprise Florida (HB 7005) and to revamp the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida (HB 9).

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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