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House revives sports proposals

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It seems to me that the strategy by some legislators of combining the tax rebate plans of several pro teams with the spring training proposals and the NASCAR museaum plan is having its desired effect. There looks to be considerable pressure being brought on the House speaker and Senate president to allow a full vote by other legislators.


Having said all that, it's amusing watching an alliance being formed of several interests who are either competing against each other or are virtually unrelated to each other for the purpose of looking after each's own interest. :D




House revives sports proposals


Cash for arena, racing museum added to sales-tax subsidy bill


By Beth Kassab

Tallahassee Bureau

Posted April 27 2005


TALLAHASSEE -- Doing an end run around a key Central Florida lawmaker, the Florida House breathed new life Tuesday into a proposal for $150 million in sales-tax subsidies for sports franchises, including the Orlando Magic and a proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame in Volusia County.


The measure was tacked onto a bill that would give a $1 million sales-tax rebate each year to the Orange County Convention Center.


If approved, the money would go for a new or renovated NBA arena in Orlando, the Florida Marlins baseball stadium in Miami, four spring-training facilities for baseball and the auto-racing hall of fame.


Rep. Fred Brummer, R-Apopka, in recent weeks has steadfastly refused to allow the sports proposals to be heard in his powerful Finance and Tax Committee, effectively bottling them up in the House.


But when it became apparent Tuesday there was broad support among a majority of members for the legislation, Brummer said he had little desire to be the House's "Don Quixote tilting at windmills."


At the same time, a Senate committee on Tuesday also approved similar bills that lumped the subsidy requests together.


But approval of the money is still far from certain.


House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee have warned that it would be too expensive to approve all of the subsidies in one year.


Even so, Tuesday's events mean the proposals that seemed doomed just last week are on the rebound.


Bense, who stood by Brummer's decision not to give a hearing to the legislation, said a number of lawmakers asked him to allow the bills to be voted on.


"I said, 'Let the members vote on it," Bense said. "I'm not sure how I'm going to vote on it, to be honest with you, but I think the members should have an opportunity to vote on it."


Combining the measures could prove risky, making them an all-or-nothing proposition. But Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer -- former state legislators themselves -- said it was worth the risk.


"At least we're coming out of the House," Crotty said in Orlando. "A day ago, we were bottled up."


Last week Rep. David Simmons, R-Longwood, agreed to drop his request to increase the Magic subsidy to $99 million in exchange for Brummer allowing the bill to move forward.


In 1988, the state created a program for eight local governments to apply to receive $60 million each over 30 years to help build professional-sports facilities. The money has been available to the city of Orlando since the Magic began playing in 1989, though the city has never applied for those dollars.


Seven teams, including the Marlins, play in stadiums built with those funds.


Tuesday's maneuver changes the original 1988 program to specify that Orlando has exclusive rights to the eighth subsidy for the next five years and creates a ninth subsidy for a new Marlins stadium.


Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach, pointed to public-opinion polls that show more than 80 percent of people are against spending tax money on professional-sports arenas and a report by a Senate economist that showed the facilities provide little or no economic benefit to their regions.


"None of these proposals have gone through any fiscal scrutiny from this body," Bucher said. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."


John Saboor, executive director of the Central Florida Sports Commission, who is involved with the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Orlando basketball arena projects, was ecstatic about the progress that both made in the state Legislature on Tuesday.


"It was a watershed day," said Saboor, who is in Tallahassee to lobby for the proposals. "New life has been offered to each of these projects."


Daytona Beach is one of six cities vying for the racing museum, competing against Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City, Kan.; Richmond, Va.; and Detroit.


Rep. Sheri McInvale, D-Orlando, said the amendments on her bill that would rebate sales-tax money to certain convention centers, including Orange County's, are likely the best way to make sure the bill passes the Senate because it will have more "buy-in" from other members if the sports proposals are attached.


Dyer, meanwhile, met with Orlando Magic General Manager John Weisbrod on Tuesday to discuss the idea of renovating the 15-year-old TD Waterhouse Centre.


"I'm not putting pressure on them to make a decision," Dyer said. "I would expect them to do exactly what they're doing, which is to look at this from every angle."


Jason Garcia, Ludmilla Lelis and Mark Schlueb of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Beth Kassab can be reached at [email protected]


or 850-222-5564.

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