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Marlins' subsidy bill clears first hurdle


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Marlins' subsidy bill clears first hurdle


By S.V. D?te, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Friday, April 16, 2004




TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Marlins' hopes for $60 million in taxpayer money for a new stadium got a boost Thursday, when a bill containing a new subsidy cleared a House committee.


The proposal could next go directly to the House floor, bypassing the normal gantlet of committee meetings most bills must go through to get there.


House Speaker Johnnie Byrd Thursday defended the $2 million a year payments to the team, calling it a good "economic development" tool that would generate new tax revenue -- even though state economists rejected that argument when they studied the issue three years ago.


"I think we have 120 very bright legislators" who can weigh those arguments for themselves, said Byrd, R-Plant City.


Gov. Jeb Bush Thursday reiterated his support for a second Marlins subsidy, adding that the two remaining weeks of this spring's legislative session might be enough to change the mind of Senate President Jim King, who has strongly opposed the idea.


King, R-Jacksonville, repeated that opposition Thursday.


"Rich people getting richer off of taxpayer dollars," King said. "I don't want to be a part of that."


Florida taxpayers are already giving the Marlins' original owner, H. Wayne Huizenga, $2 million a year for converting his stadium, Pro Player, to use for baseball. The Marlins received the first such sports stadium subsidy in 1993.


Six other sports teams have since received the identical subsidy, including franchises that were already in Florida but wanted a new stadium.


The Marlins now complain that a lease signed by the previous owner, John Henry, allows too much of the ancillary revenues to continue to go to Huizenga, who still owns Pro Player.


"What is the purpose of this? Why are we doing this?" asked Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville, wondering why a for-profit entity should get state money in a year when thousands of poor people will likely lose some Medicaid benefits.


Committee Chairman Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, defended the proposal -- which Byrd had quietly tacked onto an unrelated package of tax law changes requested by the state Department of Revenue -- as necessary to make sure the Marlins stay in Florida.


The team has said that if it does not get the $60 million commitment this legislative session toward a new stadium, it might have to leave the state.


Current law prohibits a single team getting more than one subsidy. The new language gets around that by reassigning the existing subsidy to the Dolphins and letting the Marlins get the new subsidy.


Huizenga tried to get $2 million a year for his Dolphins in 1997 but that plan was defeated in the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives on a floor vote.


The Marlins are seeking a 38,000-seat, retractable-roof stadium that would open in time for the 2007 season and would cost an estimated $325 million -- a figure some industry experts say is too low to be a practical guess.


Team owner Jeffrey Loria and the organization have committed $137 million toward construction, and Miami-Dade County has pledged $73 million. Even if they secure the state money, the Marlins would have a minimum gap of $55 million and haven't said where that money would come from.


The Marlins say they need to have a plan for construction of a new stadium in place by May 1.


The team had originally set a March 15 deadline, announced on the same day hundreds of thousands of fans turned out for rallies in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to celebrate Florida's World Series victory over the New York Yankees.


But when that deadline expired, the Marlins set the May 1 date.

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From the Friday's Sun-Sentinel:


*Sen.King said that Thursday's developments didn't change his mind.


But when asked whether he'd say the Marlins had no chance, King balked. "I'm not going to do that," he said.*




Perhaps a ray of hope?? It seems like it's the first positive thing that he's ever said concerning the ballpark.

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