An attempt to give the Miami Dolphins the ability to make stadium improvements morphed Tuesday into a catch-all sports incentive package that could provide tax dollars for everything from Major League Soccer in Orlando to spring training improvements statewide.
The bill, SB 306 by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, originally started as an attempt to give the Dolphins a $3 million annual sales tax rebate and the ability to raise more local bed-tax dollars with voter approval.
But Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, added a catch-all amendment in the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday that creates a new application process for other local governments to get in line for sports-stadium construction or renovation.
The types of sports projects that could apply to the Department of Economic Opportunity for a slice of the $15 million would include baseball spring-training facilities, stadiums hosting college bowl games, car-racing venues and Major League Soccer franchises.
DEO would evaluate the projects and rank them from best-buy to worst, and the Legislature would ultimately decide whether to fund them.
"This is really about not just what here today but two years, three years, four years down the road, so we have a process where these projects are properly vetted," Gardiner said. "It takes a little bit of the politics out of it."
Orlando is trying to land a separate, $2-million annual sales tax rebate this session in order to build a $110-million soccer stadium to entice MLS to choose the city for its Southeast expansion plans. Jacksonville is trying to land a subsidy for the Jaguars; other lawmakers are trying to provide more support to keep Grapefruit League spring-training facilities open; and Daytona International Speedway is seeking subsidies and tax breaks for a major renovation project.
But Gardiner said after the committee vote that he wanted this bill to "roll up everybody" under it, in part because it could lead to refunds to taxpayers if the teams don't meet expectations and it could force the teams to compete with each other.
"Essentially, they're going to have to compete with each other," Gardiner said. "I would much rather have two sports franchises, two cities, two counties competing for the funds because you'll ultimately get the best deal for the taxpayer."
The amendment represents a compromise with lawmakers who don't want to be perceived as giving away tax dollars to sports teams.
"I don't believe sports stadiums are economic development," said Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican pushing the amendment. "But if we're going to do it, it ought to be fair. It ought to be equitable."
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